Soothing music for distressed gentle giants | Sunday Observer

Soothing music for distressed gentle giants

14 July, 2019

They worked hard amidst neglect and abuse to earn for their masters. They suffered eye injuries and even went blind when twigs and branches damaged their eyes. Yet, when the Thai government banned logging their masters and they lost their livelihood. So, many elephants in Thailand became destitute for they were not trained for other work.

Luckily, some concerned and people started some sanctuaries for these hapless elephants and today they spend their sunset years in comfort and with security.

Paul Barton is an Englishman and a self-taught pianist. He is also an alumini of the Royal Academy of Arts where he studied art. It was in 1996 that he came to Thailand to teach music at the Thai Piano School for three months. There, it was love at first sight for him when he met his wife Kwam, a wild life artist and environmental activist.

The couple made their home in Bangkok and now some 22 years on divide their time between the Thai capital and the province of Kanchanaburi where Paul plays piano and flute for his mighty audience.

The love affair between Paul, music and pachyderms started by accident in 2011. He was doing aYoutubevideo on the famed River Kwai Bridge on the Thai - Myanmar border (province of Kanchanaburi) and heard about the Elephant World Sanctuary. Being an elephant lover he visited it and liked what he saw.

He asked the Manager who was there at the time whether he could bring his piano and play for the pachyderms.

The Elephants World management agreed and so began the musical relationship between Paul Barton and elephants.

Once the ok was given Barton embarked on the strenuous task of lugging his piano up the hill side and playing to the elephants. His first performance for the gentle giants coincided with his 50th birthday. He plays classical music for the pachyderms and his repertoire includes Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Saint-Saens and many more.


When Paul Barton started playing at Elephants World for the first time there had been an aged and blind bull elephant, Plara right behind the piano. He was having a breakfast of barna grass and was eating with all his might and main. But as soon as the first notes tinkled out of Barton’s piano, Plara became still. With bits of barna grass hanging out of his mouth Plara stood motionless until Paul stopped playing. According to Barton, Plara really loved slow, classical music and when he heard it played by Paul either on the piano or flute he would put the tip of his trunk into his mouth and hold it trembling in the mouth till the music ended.Paul and Plara developed a very close relationship and Paul says he was heartbroken when Plara died. Plara’s previous owner had removed his tusks and an infection in the empty holes caused Plara’s death.

Lam Duan

Lam Duan’s name means cheesewood flower and she is also at Elephants World Sanctuary. Totally blind she too loves classical music and Bach is one of the great composers whose music Barton plays for her. She gently sways to the music.

Paul Barton has been soothing pachyderms with music for approximately seven years now. He says that all elephants generally react visibly to music. There will be a sudden movement at the start. They may walk around, drape their trunks on or around the piano, sway, dance or even join Paul in a piano duet. Young elephants may be surprised by music and will run around at first. As an elephant lover Paul wishes that all elephants could live free in their natural habitat-the jungles. He says elephants are emotional animals and that he is only following his instincts in playing music for them. He is still trying and learning he says. -ND