The lamb who became a star
by Andrew Page
Once upon not all that long ago, on a wind-swept, snow-clad slope of the Sussex Downs, on a night when warm breath melted the air and even the stars seemed to be shivering with cold; in the prickly shelter of a few clumps of gorse, one February night a little lamb was born.
Nothing very remarkable about that, and indeed at that early stage there was nothing remarkable about the lamb. No more and no less knock-kneed and wobbly than any other lamb; in fact she was so ordinary that her mother couldn't think what to call her.
However the fact that she survived at all in all that cold was remarkable enough. But as she began to grow and her coat began to thicken, then the fact that she was different became apparent. She had quite the most beautiful round, shining eyes with long, gently curving lashes, small neat ears, perfect pearly teeth, and a coat as white as moonlight on the snow on which she was born. Her legs were straight, slender and long and she moved so gracefully that her mother, being a merino and therefore of Italian origin, decided to call her Graziella. It almost seemed that Mother Nature was so ashamed of the rough, rude way she was brought into the world, that everything thereafter should be of the very best to make up for it.
It didn't take long before Graziella herself realised the she was different from the other lambs. They seemed to her to be such a dull, stupid lot, interested in nothing but eating and sleeping and playing about. She couldn't understand how they could not fail to be delighted by all the beautiful things there were to see and do. She was constantly being surprised by the beauty of the different things she discovered: the awesome sunsets after a hot day, the way cobwebs shone like silver lace in the morning dew, the colours and smells of new Spring leaves and flowers, and the incredible freshness of greens in the sunlight just after or before heavy rain, when the sky was black and threatening.
But there was one person with whom she was able to share her joys, who understood and had a great affection for her - Charlie the Starling. He was looked down on by the others as being common and vulgar and I must confess that he was not entirely undeserving of these opinions. Some of his songs were rather rude and then there was always that dreadful whistle of his. But Graziella saw through all this and knew that underneath was a shy, sensitive, easily hurt little bird with a heart of gold who only did these noisy things because he was a Starling and it was expected of him.
The two became almost inseparable, Charlie sometimes riding on her shoulder or walking beside her, and at night, he went to sleep perched on a branch just over where she curled up against the trunk of an old oak tree.
Then one day, Charlie was whistling a little tune to himself as they were walking along.
"What is that tune?" Graziella asked him.
"I don't know," said Charlie. "It's one of the many tunes that I heard coming from a building over there last summer."
"It's very lovely," she said. "Oh how I wish I could sing!"
"Well why don't you try?" asked Charlie. "It's not so very difficult."
So began Graziella's singing lessons. At first she tended to bleat like any other lamb, but by controlling her breathing she was soon able to produce a clear, steady note. And as she progressed, Charlie realised that Mother Nature, as well as making her look beautiful, had also given her a very beautiful voice. She was such an eager and intelligent pupil that very soon she knew all Charlie's songs off by heart.
Then at the beginning of summer, Graziella, with all the other sheep, was moved into a different field. It bordered on to the grounds of a large country house, the lawns of which ended in a drop wall and a ditch which Charlie told her he had heard called a ha-ha. Down one side of the field was a fence through which Graziella could see a long lake or rather chain of lakes with ducks and coots and moorhens and even a swan swimming among the lily pads.
But what really caught Graziella's attention was the house; for coming from it was one of the songs that Charlie had taught her. She had thought it a pretty enough song before, but hearing it for the first time with an accompaniment, she was speechless with delight, her heart soaring with happiness at the beauty of it.
"Charlie, we must have an accompaniment!" she said. And who was Charlie to say no to such a lovely creature.
But first of all, Charlie had to find out what sort of accompaniment was needed. To do this he managed to get into the house so that he could hear better, and so for the first time in his life, encountered a theatre with lights, costumes and most important of all, an orchestra. To this he listened very attentively, stunned by the difference in sound between it and the piano he had heard before. He memorised the various sounds and then went back to Graziella and told her all that he had seen and did his best to imitate the sounds he had heard.
Eventually they got themselves an orchestra together, and a stranger assortment of creatures was never assembled outside of Noah's Ark: grasshoppers, crickets, bumble-bees, doves, pigeons, cats; pigs and cows for the low notes and then of course the song-birds; blackbirds, thrushes, wood-warblers, wrens, nightingales, and for other effects there were sparrows for their "cheep-cheep", skylarks for their trills, the greenfinch for it's melancholy note and the chaffinch for it's cadenzas.
When they were all assembled, Charlie showed them what they had to do and then they went off in small groups to practice by themselves, while Charlie went from group to group to coach them. And so it was that he became the conductor of the Animal Orchestra.
Then one day, a crowd of people in long dresses and black suits were seen wandering about in the garden of the big house. They all went indoors at the sound of a bell and didn't reappear for an hour or so. When they did come out, they all sat on the grass or on seats and ate the food they had brought with them, some of them sitting right up against the ha-ha.
"Look at that!" said Charlie to Graziella. "They will go on doing that every fine evening now for the next month or so."
"Charlie!" said Graziella in mock surprise, "you're not suggesting that we perform to an audience?"
"Oh no," said Charlie. "But it would be an idea wouldn't it?"
And so next evening when the bells sounded and the people went in, the Animal Orchestra assembled in front of the ha-ha, Charlie perched himself on the wall, Graziella placed herself at the front of the orchestra and they began a rehearsal.
After about three quarters of an hour, Charlie was satisfied so he dismissed them all for half an hour. When they reassembled, the people were already tucking into their picnics.
The sight of their faces as they watched this strange collection of creatures walking and hopping up to the ha-ha was a picture of surprise.
There was a lot of coughing and clearing of throats and Graziella was having difficulty in keeping her legs from trembling, but Charlie gave her a wink, raised his wings and they were off.
Well, you can imagine the reactions of the people! Glasses of champagne and wine dropped to the ground, forkfuls of food were suspended in mid air, spectacles were polished and monocles rammed home, conversation was killed stone dead and a hundred mouths gaped open in astonishment.
Graziella sang as she had never sung before. Every note was full and true and throbbing with expression. When she came to the end of her first song, there was a hushed silence and then suddenly the people began to clap and cheer like mad.
"What is it Charlie?" she asked rather frightened.
"They like you," replied Charlie. "They want more."
And so they went through their entire repertoire while cameras clicked and more and more people came to see what was going on.
When the animals came to the end of their last song, the bells sounded but none of the people stirred. They kept on cheering Graziella so that in the end, the owners of the house had to come out to see why the people weren't going back. They couldn't believe what the people were saying, so Graziella was persuaded to sing one more song to show them. They were absolutely flabbergasted, but their show had to go on, so they arranged through Charlie who had picked up a few words of human language, to hear the rest of Graziella's songs the next morning. It was agreed that they would provide the accompaniment as the animals would be too busy. Then the people went back into the house, and Graziella, tired but very happy, curled up against her tree and went to sleep.
Next morning, the papers were full of the extraordinary events of the previous evening. Overnight, Graziella had become the most famous lamb in history.
The owners of the house were as good as their word and brought Graziella into a very beautiful panelled room full of pictures and flowers with an organ at one end and a piano at the other.
Graziella sang through her songs and everyone there was filled with wonder at the beauty of her voice.
At the end of her programme, they applauded enthusiastically and then went into a huddle.
After a few minutes, through Charlie, they told her that they were going to commission a famous composer to write an opera called Abraham and Isaac, in which she would sing a very important role as the sacrificial lamb.
But first Graziella had to be bought from the farmer who asked a very high price now that she was famous. Then Graziella signed her contract on the condition that Charlie should always be with her, and that until the opera was written, she should be able to continue her interval concerts. The owners agreed to this and even offered to coach the Animal Orchestra in some new songs.
So for the rest of the summer, on fine evenings, the audience was constantly amazed and delighted by Graziella's recitals. Television companies and countless magazines came down to film and interview her and Charlie. In fact they were voted as the Personalities of the Year, much to the annoyance of one or two politicians.
The next year, the new opera was ready, so Graziella and Charlie were very busy with rehearsals.
Then came the big moment; the First Night. To say that it was a success is to be guilty of understatement. Everyone, the critics included, raved about the beauty of Graziella's singing and the sensitivity of her performance. Within the next few days, she was signed up by various opera companies all over the world to sing her role in Abraham and Isaac. So for the next year, she and Charlie were on what amounted to a world tour, feted everywhere they went.
Then one day Graziella turned to Charlie and said, "Charlie, I'm so tired. I want to go home now. I miss my field and all my friends." So when their engagements were completed they went home.
The Animal Orchestra got together to welcome them home, rehearsed by the owners of the house. When she heard the sound of their music, Graziella's eyes filled with tears and in that moment she decided not to travel any more. But for two or three summers more she gave her interval concerts and one more production of Abraham and Isaac at the house.
Then one winter morning when the snow lay thick upon the ground, neither Graziella nor Charlie could be found; nor were they ever seen again.
Everyone was upset, and the whole musical world went into mourning for a week. A memorial service was held for them in the musicians church of St Sepulchre's in Holborn and a plaque by a famous sculptor was set into the ha-ha wall to mark the spot where they used to give their concerts.
So the next time you're there, do go and have a look. You never know, but you might find another Graziella giving a concert. You just might.