Once upon a time, the Devil visited three brothers, all fiddlers, and he said to them, “Name your price.”
The eldest brother said, “In exchange for my soul I demand an enormous fortune.” The middle brother said, “A penny will content me.” The youngest brother said, “Not for a fortune, nor even a penny.”
The Devil gave the middle brother a magic penny; then he took their fiddles and he drilled an invisible hole into each one; a tiny hole for the eldest brother’s fiddle, a medium-sized hole for the middle brother’s fiddle, and an enormous hole for the youngest brother’s fiddle. He explained, “Your soul will flow out of your fiddle every time you play. Thus I will be paid.”
A tiny trickle of soul leaked out of the eldest brother’s fiddle every time he played. He played at weddings, funerals, festivals, memorials and the Opera House. His audiences paid him an enormous fortune, which he spent on wine, women, horses, mansions, gambling, scandal and an early death. The world then forgot his music, for he wrote no tunes of his own.
A moderate stream of soul flowed from the middle brother’s fiddle every time he played. He adapted ancient tunes and poems to modern rhythms, melodies, themes and sentiments. His audiences paid him a comfortable income, with which he bought a small home for his large family. His grandchildren found him on his deathbed, clutching the Devil’s magic penny so hard that they had to bury it with him. Some of his music is now called traditional.
Enormous gushes of soul poured forth from the youngest brother’s fiddle every time he played. He never made a living at it, but he played every day, and all of his tunes were his own. At the age of a hundred and one he was fiddling on a streetcorner when he ran out of soul and dropped dead. This happened centuries ago, but fiddlers still play his music today.
Moral: Sell your soul for nothing at all.