Paul Barton is an artist.
The self-taught British pianist and painter grew up immersed in all things artistic. At the age of sixteen, he enrolled at the Royal Academy of Arts in London to study the arts in a more formal setting.
Barton first came to Thailand in 1996 to teach at the Thai Piano School. He saw it as an opportunity to spend a few months in a region he'd always been curious about. He had no idea that that few months would eventually turn into a totally different sort of life's work that would keep him there permanently.
It was in Thailand that Barton met the love of his life, a passionate conservationist and animal welfare activist. It was she who initially sparked Barton's interest in animal conservation, particularly in elephants.
ElephantsWorld is a sanctuary located on the banks of the River Kwai in Kanchanaburi, Thailand. Founded in 2008, it provides lifelong care and shelter to the casualties of Thailand's now defunct commercial logging industry: the elephants who were stripped of their home and their freedom and forced to help dismantle their forest habitat.
The Thai government enacted a ban on deforestation in 1989, which rendered most of the working elephants both unwanted and unable to survive on their own. Most of these unfortunate elephants were then pressed into further service in the tourist industry. As a result of their forced "employment," many of these elephants are blind, handicapped, and psychologically damaged from their years of mistreatment.
Fortunately, ElephantsWorld stepped up to provide a safe haven for these elephants.
On his fiftieth birthday, Barton decided to fulfill a lifelong dream of sharing his music with the blind and injured elephants at ElephantsWorld sanctuary. So he dragged his piano up the side of a mountain and sat down to play.
"They were all having Barna Grass and it was that time of the day, when elephants get to eat a lot and they don't waste a moment because they know that moment won't last forever," recalls Barton.
"Pla-Ra [a blind bull elephant] was behind the piano with a mouthful of barna grass and I started to play Beethoven. Pla-Ra was chewing, and as soon as I played the first chords, he stopped eating with stalks of Barna grass protruding from each side of his mouth, and that's the way he stayed until the end of the piece," says Barton.
Pla-Ra's incredible reaction spurred Barton to turn the fulfillment of his birthday wish into an ongoing project. Since that first concert, Barton has continued to play music for elephants with extraordinary results, and is now the subject of an award-winning documentary called "Music for Elephants."
What do you think of this extraordinary man and his music for elephants? Let us know in the comments section!
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