Beethoven for Elephants

In the description for this video, pianist and elephant-lover Paul Barton in Thailand says:

I took my piano to the mountains of Kanchanaburi to play for some very old, injured and handicapped elephants, especially a blind elephant Plara immediately behind the piano. Elephant-lovers please rest-assured - all keys on modern pianos (such as this one) are made from synthetic plastic material and have been manufactured this way for some considerable time.

Plara arrived at breakfast time and stopped munching the juicy grass when he heard music, so, (?) perhaps he was listening ...

These elephants live in peaceful natural surroundings with specialized care at 'Elephant's World' Kanchanaburi.

Music: Slow movement (2) from Beethoven's Pathétique Sonata.

(thanks, Joe Sabia)


  1. Not to detract from the awesomeness of that, but this almost seems like a new internet meme; the new planking for musicians.  First we had the Mariachi band playing for beluga whales, then just yesterday I see this video of a Jazz band playing for a field of cows.

  2. I took my piano to the mountains of Kanchanaburi

    It is awesome that this man plays music for elephants, but I am more impressed with whatever moving company he may have hired, and the fees it would take to move a piano into (and, one assumes, out of…?) the mountains.

  3. A while ago I came across this interesting article discussing enjoyment of music in animals, which points out that “dancing” type behavior is only seen in animals that have learned to imitate sounds made by others (“vocal mimicry”), like parrots. And as it so happens, one of the animals mentioned in the article was an Asian elephant, which moved in time to the music–apparently at least some elephants do learn to mimic sounds they hear around them (the article mentions one that had learned to imitate truck sounds). So, maybe some of the elephants in that crowd did appreciate the “dinner music” they were hearing.

    On the other hand, I also remember this article which says that the cross-cultural ubiquity of music based on notes from the 12-note scale (though different cultures may only use a subset of them) is due to the fact that those notes are the resonant frequencies of the human vocal cavities…so even if the elephants could appreciate certain aspects like the rhythm, the music itself would probably sound to them like music not based on any of the notes in the 12-note scale would sound to us, which I imagine would be a bit weird (did any modern composers experiment with music like this?) Someone should do an experiment with playing music on instruments attuned to the resonant frequencies of an elephant’s vocal cavity to see how they react…

  4. The second article in particular jumps out at me as ill considered. There is a growing body of fatally flawed work by neuroscientists that refuse to familiarize themselves with one hundred plus years of ethnomusicological literature, and go ahead and create experiments based on a European, piano-centered idea of music. Which “12-note” scale is THE one? Are they talking about just temperament, or one of a number of 12-tone scales described as equal temperament? What about west Asian microtonal scales that vary from region to region? Basically it is the old problem of universalizing from one very particular case.

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