The Unseen Player

The Story of the Player

In a time not so long ago, and in a place not so far away there was a great grand piano. It was a magnificent piano from which beautiful music flowed for all time. Within this piano lived a large family of mice. For the mice, the piano was all of their entire world. They were born, raised and lived their entire lives within this piano world. Their lives were filled with the wonderful music that penetrated every corner of their world.

This family of mice was much like any of your own families, and they had a very loving, very old, very sweet Grandmother that like to tell the children stories. The most treasured story of all for them to be told was the story of the Great Player. On nights when the piano had grown slightly cold they like to snuggle up close to Grandmother in one of her quilts and listen to this story told over and over again.

Now three of these young mice were especially inquisitive and they were constantly drawing near to Grandmother to hear the story. Their names were Charles, Newton and Lewis and they were brothers.

“Now settle down children,” Grandmother would start, “I’m going to spin you a story ’bout how things were long ‘for any of us is born.” This would instantly draw them quiet, because it was this story that they had waited to hear. (I say quiet, but what I mean is quiet for these little mice, for we all know that being totally quiet just isn’t part of being a child.)

“Way back yonder in the olden days, before any of us mice was ever around, there was no music to fill the world. All was silent and quiet, unlike anything any mouse has ever heard. The whole of this world was empty, with nothing to see and nothing to hear. Ya’ll never known a world quite like that one. In those days, the world was a lonely place, with nothing but darkness and emptiness.”

“It sounds so scary,” exclaimed Lewis, “I sure wouldanna wanted to live then!” Lewis was the youngest of the mice and he was the one who loved Grandmother’s stories the most.

“Now hush up and listen,” Grandmother began again. “Sure it sounds scary, but all of that is what makes what happened next so wonderful. For you see it was into this world that the Great Player came, and with His coming came the beautiful music that is all that you have ever known. The Player and His music drove away all of that emptiness and darkness and filled the world with warmth and happiness.”

“But where did the mice come from?” asked Charles, for he was the type of mouse that always wanted to know the reasons behind everything.

“Well child, I’ll tell ya. For you see it was after the music had filled every corner of the world that the first mice were born. The music that had brightened up all of the dark places also gave them life. They arose at once and began to dance to the harmony of the sound. Wonder filled these first mice as they marveled at this new world that they had been born into. It was a true joy just to be alive, and they knew of and were in awe of the Great Player, who produced the music.”

“How did the Player make the music?” asked Newton, for he was a very practical mouse, always wanting to know how things worked.

“The important thing is that the music came from the Player, Newton. The Player can choose to make the music anyway He desires. Anyway, back to the story. This new family of mice grew and lived here before us, raising their children and grandchildren under the music which the Player continued to play. This music not only filled their halls with warmth and light, it was a great comfort to them. The music was a constant reminder of the Great Player who continued to play out of His great love for them.”

“But how did they know about the Player?” asked Newton, “Did they ever see Him?”

“Well child, no, they never did see the Player, but I can tell you about Him because I’m just as sure of Him as you are of the music you hear every day of your life. The Player was a part of their lives in the beginning and He’ll be a part of our lives ’til the end. You see, it is the Player that makes the music. You can never see Him, but He’s always close to you. He’ll never leave you because all He wants is what’s best for you. The music’s the proof. Without the Player, there would be no music, and without the music there would be no life.”

As Grandma said this last, she settled back into her rocker again and smiled. All of the little mice were quiet now as they considered all that they had been told. It seemed so much to think about that it made them all quite tired. It was starting to get late and they slowly began to break away and go to bed, but Lewis did as he often did at these times. He crawled up into Grandma’s lap so she could rock him to sleep.

“Oh Grandma, I’m so happy to have the Player to watch over us,” yawned Lewis softly as he closed his eyes.

“Me too child,” whispered Grandma into his ear, “me too.”

Charles’ Quest

It was the very next morning when the three little mice awoke to the familiar sound of the music. Even the hardest and most bitter person would have to admit that this was a wonderful way to start your morning. It was very difficult to have any bad or angry feelings with the joyful sound of the music constantly surrounding you. You couldn’t help but feel a sense of peace and contentment as you went about your daily life in this place.

Though all held true to the belief of the Great Player, there were some to whom He was a little less real. Not all of the adults and children held so strongly to their beliefs about the Player. Sure, if you had asked them about Him, they would have responded with all the proper and right responses, but the joy of the music did not fill their hearts, as it was blocked by other thoughts.

It was on this wonderful, lovely day that Charles, Newton and Lewis arose to the music and set out to finish their daily chores, so they might have the rest of the day to play. This was what they did almost every day because, like most children, they liked to play more than anything else. Usually they played lots of fun games like chase, hide and seek, and cowmice and cats, but today Charles had a different idea.

“I’m tired of playing all of the same old games we always play, I want to go on an adventure!”

“What’s an add venturr Charles?” replied Lewis, for he was ever so young and had never heard of such things before.

“It has excitement and danger and you fight dragons and find gold and in the end you win a princess!” said Newton. Newton had read many books of adventures since he was first able to read and often dreamed of being a knight himself one day.

“Not that kind of adventure,” Charles told them, “I mean a real adventure that we can do right now in real life.”

“But what kind of adventure can we do,” frowned Newton, “we’re just little mice and there is no danger here.”

“I want to go on a quest for the one thing no one has ever seen,” said Charles.

“What’s that?” they replied.

“I’m going to find the Great Player and see Him for myself!” cheered Charles, and with that the other two mice all but fell down, for such an idea had never occurred to either of them, and they didn’t know quite what to think. This was an idea that Charles had thought long and hard on and he had been hoping to try for weeks. Now with all the talk about the Player the night before, he finally had the nerve to try it.

“But Grammy always said we didn’t need to see the Great Player to believe in Him.” stammered Lewis. “He’s just there and no one has to see Him.”

“But just imagine what it would be like to actually see Him Lewis,” exclaimed Charles, “then we could know for sure and tell everyone what we have found and we will be famous.”

“Well, it doesn’t sound like a good idea to me,” said Lewis, “I don’t want to go.”

“Suit yourself,” said Charles, “you coming Newton?”

“Well, I don’t know,” answered Newton, “I would like to find out where the music comes from. Why don’t I wait here and you can tell me what you see when you get back. Then I could go and see for myself after you know the way.”

“Okay, but you guys are really missing out by not coming,” said Charles, and with a nod he turned and was off on his way to find the Player, the source of the music they heard.

Now there are some things you should know about Charles before I tell you about his journey. Charles was a very smart little mouse. He had always been able to figure things out quicker than any of the other little mice. He learned quickly and he was always hungry to find out new things. He always dreamed that one day when he got older he would be a scientist and would be able to discover many things that no one else had ever known.

He did this for two reasons. First, he really did have a legitimate desire to know things that might help out, but secondly, Charles liked to know more than others so that he could do a bit of showing off. He thought that finding the Player would make him famous and important and every one would like him the best. This was the bad thing about him searching for the Player. Even though Charles was a good little mouse, he wanted to be better than his brothers.

Since Charles had thought about this moment so often, he knew immediately the path that he must take in order to go on his search. It led away from the village and towards the place where the music was loudest. From this hole above poured a pleasant light that filled you with a warmth that was better than a cup of hot chocolate on a cold winter’s day.

Charles had ventured close to the hole before and he knew that there were little holes which he could use to scamper up into it. He now placed his paw carefully in the first hole, preparing to start his climb to the top.

What lay ahead was something that he knew nothing of, a place that was only a part of his imagination that was about to be added to his reality. It was the unknown. Now, it might not seem like much for you and me. We know that it was a piano that was their world and we have a pretty good idea about what lay ahead, but for Charles it was just like every time you looked in a dark cave, or visited a haunted house. The fear was real, and it took a great deal of courage before Charles was ever able to take that first step.

He finally raised up his courage and ran quickly up into the hole. Once he was finally there, the warm, pleasant feeling overcame a little bit of the fear that had filled Charles. He had to push through, because he had developed a round little body from sitting out too many of the mouse games. It wasn’t that tight though, and soon enough he was getting to the end of the tunnel where it opened up.

Charles cautiously peeked his head out of the hole, and found nothing but the sound of the music floating to him down a long hallway. Slowly he crept out of the hole and stared down into the shadowy, glowing light. It was brighter here, and much more mysterious. Not like any of the light that he had ever seen in his village. Still, he couldn’t help but enjoy the wonderful feeling that seemed to be coming down the tunnel towards him. Further along, he could see that the tunnel continued on a ways into the darkness.

It was an easy choice as he headed out, down towards the light. After all, his journey was to find the Player, and if Grandma were right, the best way to do that was to follow the light. The tunnel seemed to carry on for quite a ways and it was slow going as Charles wouldn’t allow himself to move very fast. He took his time and enjoyed the trip as he moved towards the ever increasing sound of the music. By now, it was very loud, and the sound seemed to vibrate through Charles’ entire body. He delighted in the sound and it really made him forget about any dangers which might lie ahead.

At long last, he reached the end of the tunnel. This end curved up and around into another area above. It was from here that all of the sound seemed to be coming. Charles braced himself for the long awaited encounter with the Player. This was something he had dreamed and hoped for, and finally it was going to happen. Slowly, he peeked his head up and around this last corner, but just as quickly he darted it back.

It was an amazing sight! He moved all the way back around to get a better look. There were the most beautiful strands of gold, and it was from these that the music flowed. Charles was dazzled by the beauty and the power of the sound. He leaned up against the wall and looked back and forth at the many different strands. For they were different, Charles saw that they were all of different lengths and a slightly different sound vibrated from each one. “Oh what a wonder!” thought Charles, “I shall have to tell everyone the truth of the music.”

Charles sat there a bit longer in awe of the beauty and majesty of these magical gold strands. After a while, he picked himself up and rushed back the way he had come. He couldn’t wait to get back and tell all the others. He could even tell Grandma what he had seen and how there really was no Player after all. It was all in the magic of the strands that the music came from. “Now, I’ll be a hero for sure,” thought Charles, and he dreamed of all the wonderful things the others would say and do for him after he told them his secret.

Newton’s Quest

Now it was nearly time for bed again when Charles came storming in with his big news. He was all out of breath and couldn’t speak when he ran up to the room he shared with his brothers. Instantly, Newton was at his side wondering whatever it was that could make his brother run so hard to get to them, for Charles was not known to run unless it was to the call of dinner. “What happened Charles?” asked Newton, “Did you see a dragon?”

“Did you see Him?” squealed Lewis, “Did you see the Player?

“Hold on, let me catch my breath,” panted Charles. They stood beside him and waited, though the excitement within them was almost more than they could bear. Finally, after what seemed like forever Charles began to tell them his tale. He spoke slowly as he worked his way back over the entire journey, adding details that he knew would scare and impress his brothers. Newton and Lewis interrupted often, not wanting to miss a single thing.

Charles eventually made it to the huge room filled with golden strands. His brothers were amazed. It was like nothing they had ever seen or heard of. Charles ended by saying, “Now we know the truth. There is no Player. The music comes from the strands of gold. They are magic that brings us heat, light and life.

“But that can’t be it!” cried Lewis, “Grammy said that the Player made the music!”

“I saw it with my own eyes, Lewis!” replied Charles. “You know that no one has ever seen the Player, but the strands of gold, those I’ve seen. What do you think Newton?”

“I’d like to see for myself before I say,” said Newton.

“Then you will see Newton,” said Charles. “I’ll tell you how to get to them and you can travel there tomorrow.”

“Can’t you come with me Charles?” asked Newton.

“Don’t be silly,” answered Charles, “It isn’t that far and there is no real danger as long as you go the same way I did. What about you Lewis? Don’t you want to see where the music comes from?”

“I don’t care what you say,” cried Lewis. “There is a Player, and He is where the music comes from. I believe Grammy. She knows the truth and I do to.” And with that, Lewis rolled over and cried himself to sleep. Newton and Charles stayed up later planning Newton’s trip to see the golden strands the next day. Even after all the rest of the house had gone to bed, including Newton, Charles could not sleep. He could only think about all the grand things that would happen tomorrow when he shared his knowledge with the rest of the village.

When sleep finally claimed him, Charles dreamt dreams filled with great rewards and honor. All the adult mice and their children came before him to tell him how wonderful he was, even Grandma came to him and said, “I’m so proud of you boy, it is because of you that we finally know the truth.”

The little sleep that Charles had the night before kept him in bed a little longer than his brothers, so by the time that he got up, they had already finished the daily chores and Newton was preparing to leave.

“Aren’t you gone yet, Newton?” said Charles. “You should really get going so you will have lots of time to enjoy looking at those beautiful golden strands.”

“I’m going right now,” said Newton, “I was just waiting for you to get up so I could say good-bye.”

“Don’t worry Newton,” said Charles, “you’ll get back all right and then you can help me tell everyone about what I found out.”

Newton headed out down the path that Charles had told him about and followed along the same way that he had told him to go. It still took him a good deal of time before he was walking along the tunnel towards the light, because it is one thing to be told something is safe, and quite another to have to believe it is safe enough to put your own tail on the line. Still, it wasn’t too long before Newton was ducking his head around that final bend that led to the room that contained the golden strands.

Newton, just like Charles, was amazed at the dazzling wonder of the golden strands. He stood hypnotized by their enchantment, unable to avoid the loveliness and power of the music that emanated from them. After who knows how long, Newton began to look around the gigantic room which contained these marvelous golden strands. He saw that there was a slim ledge that ran all the way around the room, leading from the point at which he was standing and continuing away as far as he could see.

Newton thought, “Surely it is not just magic that makes these wondrous strands work, there has to be something to strum them to get them to vibrate like they do.” Newton was a very practical mouse and his curious nature demanded to find out what it was that made these amazing golden strands vibrate the way they did.

Newton began to edge himself out around the ledge, and as he did he saw that is was actually wider than he had thought. He soon was making his way at a quick pace around the rim of the room. Still the music and power filled him as the giant room was unable to contain so much sound. The pleasure was so great, Newton thought he might burst, but he continued, led on by his great curiosity. He soon saw a great row of gigantic things beyond his description. It seemed to Newton that it was these things that held the golden strands in place, and perhaps it was them that caused the strands to vibrate.

When Newton moved closer, he could see that the ledge he was on did not end at these great things. It carried on underneath with just enough room for Newton to slide under. As he did, he felt a great rumbling and the vibration was as much as it had ever been. He looked up and saw that the golden strands continued on this side of the barrier, but that wasn’t all he saw. There, to his bewilderment, were great hammers which plunged down upon the strands, sending vibrations throughout them.

This was the key to the music! The hammers hit certain strands, and those strands produced the different notes of the melody. What a spectacular mechanical device this world was that they live in. It wasn’t magic after all. It was a machine, the most wonderful machine there ever was or ever would be. Newton couldn’t wait to tell the others what he had discovered.

He was so happy to have found out the music was made by a machine, because he loved machines himself, and one day hoped to build great ones. Newton examined this machine closely, then he hurried back the entire distance. He knew it must be getting late and he dared not be home later than bed time. How surprised the others would be to hear this stupendous news that he couldn’t wait to share.

Lewis’ Quest

What Newton didn’t know is that all day long while he had been away, Charles had been telling everyone his news. Everyone in the village knew what a bright little mouse Charles was, so they were not quick to dismiss his story, as adults often are. Some believed in the Player above all else, and they dismissed Charles’ findings. They all agreed it was a wonderful story whether it was true or not, and many of those to whom the Player was not so real began to accept the news.

They liked his idea. They felt it more sensible than the story of the Player, and by the end of the day, they were ready to believe in the golden strands that Charles had seen. These seemed so much easier to believe in than in the Unseen Player. Strands of gold were something that was real. They knew about such things in their own world and they understood how they could create music.

By the time Newton came running into the Town Square, most of the family had gathered there in the evening to listen to Charles tell once again of his journey and discovery. Newton came rushing into the group, urgent to share his own discovery. When he did, the crowd accepted it all the more. “Of course!” they thought. “How simple! How could we have ever believed in something as foolish as the Unseen Player.”

This was not all the village, but there were a growing number who were coming to believe in these theories. It was something that seemed more real to them than the story of the Player. A solid core of believers remained, among these were Grandma and Lewis. As Lewis watched the crowd, he vowed to find out for himself and not stop until he had seen Him.

Lewis left that very night, as soon as everyone had settled down for bed. This might be seen as a very foolish thing for a little mouse to do, but he couldn’t wait until morning. He had to find the Player now. He knew the Player was real, and he couldn’t stand it that so many of the others were turning away from Him. He would find the real Player, and when he had the proof, he would come back and tell them all that the Player was real and it was from Him alone that the beautiful music flowed.

Lewis crept out of the room and down to the front door. Silently, he slipped out and headed towards the soft music and dim light that always came with the night. He had heard all of what Charles had told Newton, so he knew the way that would lead him to the golden strands. It was darker at night, and this made for an even scarier journey up to the hole that led to the tunnel. Lewis was much smaller than either of his two brothers, but very agile. He was able to scamper up into the hole very easily.

When he leaped into the tunnel a warm and powerful burst of air and music that was more like a wave rushed over him. As this washed over Lewis, he was filled with a sense of calm and peace and was no longer afraid. He knew that the Player was real, he just knew it. He walked quickly down the tunnel heading for the light that he knew would lead him. As he reached the end, he had to pause before moving on. The excitement was great in his heart and he could feel it pounding against his chest.

He moved around the turn and saw it. There in all the glory and splendor were the golden strands. “How beautiful,” said Lewis to himself. He sat down to experience the music as it floated down to him from above. The soft melody reached his pounding heart and calmed it. After a time had passed, Lewis realized this was only the first step in his journey. He looked and found the ledge that he had heard his brother speak of almost instantly. Then he was racing, flying around the ledge, with the beat of the music increasing and driving him on. He was near his goal now. He could feel it!

Lewis slowed as he reached the great barrier. This whole room, everything, was bigger than he could even imagine. It was a vast landscape that spread out before him, and here was the barrier, right ahead. He slipped under it and found himself in a smaller room. This room had a noise that was both grand and mysterious, and then he saw them. There, above him. There were the hammers that Newton had spoken of. Truly, they were magnificent, really too big to be called something as simple as a hammer.

Still, the music was there for him, but now it slowed once again, and grew soft. Lewis froze and looked around. Despite its softness, the music seemed to penetrate still deeper within him. He sat in awe of all that was around him. It was all so wonderful, and yet still he must journey on further to find the Player. Lewis saw that the ledge he was on ran into a wall, which seemed to lead up to a place where the light shined at its brightest. He started to walk carefully over to the light. Moving to the slow beat of the music now.

The light grew brighter the closer he walked, yet he could still see everything clearly, more clearly in fact. The colors of the light diffused into a thousand rainbows all around him, all of which seemed to be reaching out to him. It was like looking at the world through a perfect crystal. All things grew clear, not only in the world around him, but in his mind and in his heart. Lewis stopped and stared into the light. He was soaked with the music and the light and the feeling. It was all there for him.

Then suddenly, softly at first, he heard a new sound. This sound was different than the music. It had a different texture and it filled the air even more. Joy hit Lewis like a tidal wave. He fell to his knees and began to cry. Not little mouse tears, but great tears of passion and happiness. Lewis knew what the noise was. The Player had begun to sing. It was a song of such majesty that it could be from no other. The song seemed to carry more meaning than words could hold. It was more like a feeling than a song, and a feeling that surpassed all others.

Then the music and the voice began to pick up pace. This tune was one of celebration. Lewis arose and began to dance. It was a dance that came from the music. He danced and sang and lived, and he knew for sure what he had never doubted. “The Player is real!” yelled Lewis, “You’re real!” Lewis danced on and on until the Player’s voice went silent.

As the song ended, Lewis sank softly to the ground and slept. It was a sleep that was filled with the song. The feeling and understanding that the song brought rested with Lewis throughout his sleep. He slept and rested as well as anyone has ever rested. Dreaming of the Player and all that was the Player. It seemed as if this happy sleep might go on forever, but then the morning came.

“Wake up Lewis, wake up,” said Grandma. “What are you doing down here on the couch when you ought to be up in your bed?”

“What?” said Lewis sleepily.

“I don’t know what’s gotten into you boys,” she said. “You’re always running off these last few days, and your brothers got the town all stirred up with all those stories.”

“He’s real Grammy, He’s real!” said Lewis.

“Who’s real?” said Charles and Newton, who had just walked in.

“The Player’s real!” replied Lewis. “I’ve seen Him!”

“Where? asked Charles. “I’ve been to the golden strands and I haven’t seen Him.”

“Where? asked Newton. “I’ve been to the great hammers and I haven’t seen Him. So tell us Lewis. Where did you see the Player?”

“Don’t you see, “exclaimed Lewis, “you’ve both seen the Player. It is just like Grammy told us. He’s in the golden strands, and He’s in the great hammers. He’s everywhere! Can’t you see it. I have seen Him and so have you, you just haven’t really looked. I don’t guess I had either until I heard His song. That is when I first saw Him. He’s real, right here, right now. The music is from Him and is about Him. The golden strands and the great hammers are just the means that he uses to bring it to us.”

“You do see child,” said Grandma. “Now you truly see. So many are never blessed with what you have, hold on to it tight and never let it go. That is the truth that is in the telling, and that is the truth that makes this life worth living. The music will never end, and it is all because of the Player who never leaves us.”

With this last statement, Charles and Newton walked away, now with more to think about than ever. They didn’t know what to believe now. Grandma knew they would have to work it out on their own between them and the Player. As Grandma sat down in her rocking chair, Lewis ran and climbed back up into her lap.

“Isn’t it all so wonderful Grammy,” said Lewis.

“Yes it is child,” replied Grandma, “yes it is.”

So the mice lived on in their little piano world, with many following Grandma and Lewis in their belief in the Great Unseen Player. Many others chose instead to believe in the power of the golden strands, or in the great hammers. Throughout it all the music continued to flow throughout the piano, both day and night, without end, and the Pianist continued to play.

Photo by Alexas Fotos on

I wrote this story in 1994 for a class in graduate school. It was adapted from an article printed in London, England more than a century ago. You can see the original text here.

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