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The Brementown Musicians

The Brementown Musicians
The Brementown Musicians

The story, "The Bremen Town Musicians," was told by the brothers Grimm in Germany, in the early 1800s. This session comes from Gail Forsyth-Vail's book, Stories In Faith: Exploring Our Unitarian Universalist Principles and Sources Through Wisdom Tales (Boston: Unitarian Universalist Association, 2007).

Read or tell the story.

A farmer once had a donkey who was growing old and unable to work. Thinking that it was no longer worthwhile to feed the old donkey, the farmer became determined to put an end to that donkey. The donkey, sensing that something was amiss, ran away. The donkey was thinking they would go to Bremen and become a musician. The donkey was:

On the road to Brementown.

A musician they would be.

After traveling a ways, the donkey came upon a tired dog lying beside the road and panting. "What are you doing lying there, my friend?" the donkey asked.

"Alas, I am old and weak and can no longer hunt, so my owner decided to do away with me. I ran away, but now I don't know how to make my living. The only thing I can still do is bark."

"Well," said the donkey, "you and your bark can join me. I'm off to become a town musician in Bremen ." And when the dog joined the donkey, they were:

On the road to Brementown.

Musicians they would be.

It was not long before the two came upon a cat sitting in the road, looking mournful. "What's the matter with you?" said the donkey. "Why are you looking so sad?"

"Oh," meowed the cat. "How can I be cheerful when my life is in danger? I am growing old and would rather lie about by the fire than chase mice, so my owners resolved to drown me. I ran away from them, but I don't know what I shall do to earn my food."

"Well," said the donkey, "you are certainly a good singer! Come and join us. We're going to Bremen to become town musicians." The cat quickly agreed, and they were:

On the road to Brementown.

Musicians they would be.

Soon enough, they came upon a rooster perched on a farmer gate, screaming for all he was worth. "Cock-a-doodle-doo! Woe is me! Tomorrow they will put me in the soup pot. Whatever am I to do?"

"You can certainly add something to a concert," said the donkey. The donkey invited the rooster to join the group. In short order, they were:

On the road to Brementown.

Musicians they would be.

The animals could not reach the town in one day, so they decided to settle in the forest for the night. The donkey and dog lay under a tree, and the cat in the branches. The rooster flew to the topmost branch and had a look around. "There must be a house not a far way off," said the rooster, "for I can see a small light."

Hungry and cold, all four agreed to go and see if they might find food and shelter. When they arrived at the cabin, they arranged themselves to peek in the window. The donkey put their front hooves against the side of the cabin; the dog climbed on the donkey’s back. The cat sat on the dog's shoulders and the rooster flew up to sit on the cat's head. When he looked inside, the rooster reported seeing some robbers sitting and making merry in front of the fire. There was a table spread with all manner of good food.

The foursome made a plan for getting rid of the robbers. At the donkey's signal, all four of the Brementown musicians began to sing. The donkey brayed, the dog barked, the cat meowed, and the rooster screamed. The frightened robbers ran from the place, leaving the wonderful feast to the four friends, who happily ate their fill and settled down to sleep.

After a time, the most courageous of the robbers decided to come back. All was quiet now. Maybe the robbers had left too hastily. The robber crept cautiously into the dark cabin. There the robber saw the cat's open eyes, looking like two live coals. The robber took out a match to strike, and the cat sprang at the robber’s face and gave it a big scratch. The robber ran for the back door, and the dog jumped up and bit that robber in the leg. The donkey helped the robber cross the yard with a hefty kick, and all the while the rooster screamed, "Cock-a-doodle-doo!"

The robber returned, shaken, to their companions and hastily explained what had happened in the cabin: "A horrid witch scratched me with their bony fingers, then a killer with a knife stabbed me, a monster with a club beat me, and the devil sat on top of the cabin crying all the while calling, 'Bring the rascal here!'"

The robbers never dared to go back to the cabin again, and the four friends remain together to this day, making music in the woods.

 

About the Author

  • Gail Forsyth-Vail is a Credentialed Religious Educator, Master Level, who served congregations for twenty-two years before joining the UUA staff in 2008. She is the author of a number of faith development curricula and resources. She was the 2007 recipient of the Angus MacLean Award for Excellence...

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