Legendary tale teaches honesty, magic

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 17, 2005

The Pied Piper of Hamlin came over to Suffolk Friday afternoon to teach hundreds of youngsters a few lessons. Kids learned to keep their promises. They learned to laugh. They learned to cheer. And some of them might have even learned what path they’d like to take in life.

Three members of the Virginia Opera visited Southwestern Elementary to perform the 1888 Robert Browning tale of a down-on-his-luck artist who proves to everyone how important it is to keep one’s word. In the title role, Daniel Olsen ambled out on stage in the typical vagabond attire of mismatched clothes and grimy shoes, drawing howls of gall from the youngsters.

After moping about how no one pines for the pied, the piper was suddenly accosted by a beautiful woodland nymph, who’d kept the forest going through thousands and thousands of incantations.

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But for all her enchanting achievements, there was one thing the nymph never knew – the powers of reading. As the piper explained to her (and the kids) that books can be anything and everything to anyone, the nymph promised to help him get a job for money and a new suit in exchange for a book.

Sure, it required ridding nearby Hamlin from its rascal infestation, but hey, work’s work, right? Horn in hand, the piper headed away. Little did he know what awaited; the town where, according to its own mayor, &uot;It’s just the way we live, that we take but never give! Every chance we get, we cheat, so we never taste defeat.&uot;

The piper arrived, and blasted the notes through his horn (though they sounded strangely like piano keys). The entranced rats (which looked strangely like Southwestern students) came out and blindly followed him out of town.

But the mayor, in typical government fashion, still had one more trick to pull, informing the piper that a list of his tax technicalities would enable her to withhold all of his money. The dejected piper returned to the woods, where the nymph made him a new deal; use his piping skills to entice the children to the area, where she’d look over him. Now defiant, he headed back, and brought them away.

And since even the coldest of hearts can’t bear to live without their kids, the mayor realized how much she wanted them all back, and everyone came together in the end to melodically discuss their new ability to &uot;open up our heart and let the magic in!&uot;

As the play ended, some of the kids were handed a microphone to pose some queries of their own.

&uot;Is this the story of Peter Piper?&uot; asked one youngster.

&uot;No, Peter Piper picked a patch of pickled peppers!&uot; Olson answered. &uot;There’s no pepper or patch here!&uot;

&uot;How do you sing so well?&uot; one asked.

&uot;Practice!&uot; answered Shosha-nnah Marote, the former nymph. &uot;That’s what it’s all about – practice, practice, practice!&uot;

&uot;Why is the piper poor?&uot; came the final question.

&uot;Well, he’s an artist,&uot; Olson replied, &uot;and sometimes artists don’t make much money. It’s not like he’s a lawyer or an accountant, but I don’t think you’d like the story of the pied accountant!

&uot;We enjoy getting the chance to work with kids,&uot; he said after the Q&A. &uot;You get a chance to learn their names, and it makes them feel important that their schoolmates are there to watch them.&uot;

Performances like the piper’s are part of the Opera’s program to drum up young interest and in the community, Marote said.

&uot;Bringing this to schools keeps our names out there,&uot; she said. &uot;It’s great for kids, and it’s a great way to find some who might want to be in the theater.&uot;

There were a few there on Friday.

&uot;I can sing really good opera now,&uot; said Leslie Umphlett, 10, who played one of the children. &uot;I hope I can sing like them when I get older.&uot;

&uot;I’d like to sing in the opera, so I’d have a nice voice,&uot; said Kristen Walden, another child. &uot;I’d get other people to sing like me. It was fun singing with the people from the opera, because we didn’t have to do any schoolwork today!&uot;