By Jack Williams
This pianist gives old, injured and handicapped elephants a moment they will never forget, taking his instrument out into the wild and providing them with renditions of classical symphonies.
Kindhearted Brit Paul Barton, 57, has been putting together his unique performances since 2011, and he believes that playing the likes of Bach and Beethoven to the animals helps rehabilitate those that have lived stressful lives.
In his selection of videos, the elephants at Elephants World, a sanctuary near Kanchanaburi, Thailand, can be seen mesmerised by Paul’s performances, standing next to the piano as the pianist calmly plays away.
Paul came across Elephants World while making a video about the River Kwai bridge and liking the sound of what was seen as a retirement home for the majestic creatures, Paul payed the sanctuary a visit, asking the manager if he could bring his piano along, too.
The first elephant Paul played to was called Plara, a blind elephant who, when he first heard music, stopped eating his breakfast of bana grass and stood motionless, fascinated by the sound.
Paul, who is originally from East Yorkshire, said: “Almost all elephants react to music in a visible way.
“There’s a sudden movement when the music begins.
“The elephants are free to walk about around the piano, they are not chained or tethered in any way.
“If they didn’t like the music then they could simply wander off.
“Some elephants get very close to the piano of their own accord, they might drape their trunk over the piano even.
“Some hold their trunk in their mouth when listening, some start to sway with the rhythm of the music.
“Some younger elephants can get very surprised by the sound and will run suddenly around the piano curious about it.”
Paul usually plays slow, classical numbers to the elephants, he said, removing the parts that he believes will not hold their interest.
Each elephant has different tastes, and in total there are 28 that Paul plays to.
The location for his videos is across the road from his house – a quiet and mysterious wild spot that’s just beneath a mountain.
Sometimes, wild monkeys also come to watch the pianist perform, sitting in groups on a nearby rock.
Paul’s journey to playing for such wonderful creatures started in the UK, where he taught himself piano as a youngster.
Having heard an impromptu by Schubert, a young Paul decided he wanted to play the piece, too.
As he didn’t have a piano at home, Paul learned on other people’s instruments.
He then studied fine art at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, and 22 years ago, moved to Thailand to teach piano.
That teaching expedition was supposed to be short, three-month trip, but Paul would meet his wife, Khwan, a wildlife artist with whom he has a daughter, Emilie, 3.
The family now live at Elephants World also, helping out with chores and playing with the animals that live there.
Going forward, Paul plans to continue bringing out his piano to enrich their lives.
He said: “The piano is out in the mountains, so it’s completely free – the elephant can do what it wants.
“These elephants are standing close to you, and there’s kind of a connection that you can’t explain in words.”