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Meet the pianist for elephants

December 14, 2018 08:57 IST
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Paul Barton, a British musician, from Yorkshire, plays classical music to old, overworked and sometimes disabled elephants.

All photographs: Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters

Near the Thailand-Myanmar border, British musician Paul Barton recently sat down to a piano surrounded by the jungle and began playing a classic Bach piece for an audience, you won’t believe it, of elephants!


Barton, a 57-year-old concert pianist from Yorkshire, left the music halls of Europe behind in the 1990s. He now only plays his classical numbers for rescued elephants at Elephants World, with the endless green of rural Kanchanaburi province in Thailand as a backdrop.

Asked how this endeavour of playing music for old, overworked and sometimes disabled elephants began, Barton recounts that the whole episode started 22 years ago when he had moved to Thailand for three months to teach piano at a private school and there he met Khwan, a wildlife artist and animal lover who would become his wife, and they decided to stay.

Recounting further, he said when he visited a sanctuary, he wanted to do more than just visit the animals. “I wondered if these old, rescued elephants might like to listen to some calm, slow classical piano music, so I asked if I could bring my piano along and play to the elephants,” he is quoted as saying. “They allowed me to do that.”

Barton soon became a regular. He would sit down at the bench, drawing different reactions from the various elephant residents.

In an interview to Coconuts World, Barton says, “The first time I played piano at Elephants World, a blind elephant called Plara was closest to the piano by coincidence. He was having his breakfast of bana grass, but when he heard the music for the first time, he suddenly stopped eating with the grass protruding from his mouth and stayed motionless all through the music.”

“Plara really liked slow classical music and each time I played piano or flute, he curled his trunk and held the tip trembling in his mouth until the music was over,” he added.

Barton says he knows there are inherent dangers being around such massive creatures, especially the large males. But these are the animals that seem to love the music the most.

“With the bull elephants I am always aware they could kill me at any moment, and the mahouts are aware of it too and I can tell they are nervous for me,” he is quoted as saying. “Up to now, it’s been these dangerous and potentially aggressive bull elephants that are always kept well away from people that have reacted the most to expressive, slow classical music. There is something about the music in the moment that makes them feel calm.”

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