A blind elephant listens to Bach, Chopin, and Schubert

March 12, 2021 • 1:30 pm

Reader John Crisp sent me this video along with the following heartfelt comment (quoted with permission):

Sorry if you have already seen and/or posted this. It made me cry. I’ve been lucky enough to spend some considerable time with elephants, and I’m not sure that a planet without elephants would be worth living on.

I don’t recognize the tunes, but the elephant clearly likes them, swaying with pleasure. What a great privilege to serenade an elephant!

The YouTube notes:

Lam Duan is the name of an old blind elephant, her name means “Tree with Yellow Flowers”. Lam Duan has been blind most of her life. Lamduan lives at Elephants World, Thailand. http://www.elephantsworld.org

28 thoughts on “A blind elephant listens to Bach, Chopin, and Schubert

  1. Very nice to behold. Yet I wonder: the text claims that “the elephant clearly likes them [the played tunes], swaying with pleasure”; but is swaying a sure sign of elephants being happy? And if so, how do we know it is happy because of the music and not, for example, because it is in love with the camera(wo)man/person? Or with the smell of the piano?

    1. Not leaving is an even surer sign. Of course, perhaps she’s just trying to be polite and she really prefers K-Pop. All joking aside, she does seem to be paying attention.

  2. I am guessing some of the modern non-melodic songs would have made her run for the hills. I found this very moving

  3. My wife plays all of these pieces (and I still recognised them…. Only kidding, Lyn!) The first is Bach’s Prelude in C Major (my guitar rendition truly is unrecognisable – I’m the least musical member of the family, including our cat Marcus Clawrelius). The second piece is from Bach’s Goldberg Variations, and the third is Schubert’s Standchen (spelling?). I didn’t catch any Chopin, though?

    1. No Chopin, and no Satie either. Perhaps music by these composers is heard in another cut of this recording session.

  4. As Mark Carwardine said in his excellent book with Douglas Adams, the world would be a darker place without such wonderful animals. Who cares about the usefulness of having them around, the utilitarian arguments for biodiversity? They’re beautiful in themselves and valuable in themselves. ‘Nuf said.

    1. (Though I do always associate the Bach piece, in the second section of the video, with Hannibal Lecter, since it’s played as soundtrack/by the character in the films/TV series…)

      1. I was recently updating my Goodreads review of “Last Chance to See” with the recent conservation statuses of the species he wrote about and I referred to that quote as well. (And I also recognise the Goldberg Variations because of “Silence of the Lambs.”)

  5. I imagine Lam Duan is thinking,

    “Every time a double bassist comes to the jungle, they always ask me ‘hey! You ever hear Saint Saens Carnival of the Animals : Elephant? Well, let me play it for you!’ – UGH – so OBVIOUS – finally, someone with something to EXPRESS that I don’t already know because guess what – I’m an elephant, if you didn’t notice!”

    Saint-Saens Carnival of the Animals – Elephant : https://youtu.be/f1nVDoCnsNk

    ^^^ apologies if that makes anyone insulted, I think it is good natured fun – because the obvious piece – Elephant – was not referred to at all. But I know my humor can lead me into trouble. The video is truly breathtaking.

      1. The situation seems complicated, but I’m the first to acknowledge that this is an area about which I know nothing.

        Richard C. Lair, criticised in the linked Futureforelephants.org article for his involvement with the Elephant Orchestra, is the lead author of the UN FAO’s late ’90s report “Gone Astray – The Care and Management of the Asian Elephant in Domesticity”. http://www.fao.org/3/ac774e/ac774e00.htm The Orchestra’s cofounder, Dave Soldier, was a professor of neuroscience at Columbia University back in 2000. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-24400364 They strike me as unlikely elephant exploiters, but as indicated above I claim no knowledge.

        The International Elephant Foundation (IEF), which Lair has also been involved with, attempts to fund global elephant conservation. It has attracted controversy because it works with people from all bodies that have any contact with elephants, including zoos, circuses, and private owners. However, I note that Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus (Tom Albert, their Vice President for Government Relations, is a Past President of the IEF) won a lawsuit against animal rights campaigners. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Elephant_Foundation#Controversy

        (Apologies in advance to our host for having to moderate this post because of the number of links here, but I think it’s important that I link to the sources behind what I’m trying to say.)

        1. Oops, in my comment above I think I carelessly mixed up Thailand’s National Elephant Institute (which Richard C. Lair appears to have been involved with) and the International Elephant Foundation.

          Since posting my earlier comment I have found that Lair is a co-author of both “Are Fast-Moving Elephants Really Running?”, published in Nature
          https://www.nature.com/articles/422493a, and of the book “Elephant care manual for mahouts and camp managers”, which acknowledges that

          This small book is the mirror translation of the Thai version. The target reader for this manual is the average Thai mahout, who will mainly have had only 4 years of formal education. The second important audience is camp managers, including elephant owners who run their own camps. The vocabulary and science have been kept at a very simple level. It is hoped that this manual will be of some use to veterinary students and possibly to veterinarians with no elephant experience.

          [I will put the link in a separate comment below, so that our host doesn’t need to waste time moderating this one.]

          It may be that he takes an approach he sees as being pragmatic, but that others interested in elephant welfare disagree with?

          I appreciate that my comments have concentrated on Lair, and not the pianist Paul Barton. The latter surely can’t have been unaware of what was going on when the elephant was being positioned by the piano? And, yes, unfortunately that does look like pliers, or something very similar, in the hand of the guy nearest to the piano as he passes behind it in the fifth of the “Links to Published Videos” below the article that WEIT reader “savage” drew to our attention at #13. The extent to which Barton genuinely believes that the handlers’ behaviour is acceptable and the animals suffer no harm, and that he is somehow helping elephant conservation (presuming that some of the money generated finds its way to an organisation at least claiming to further such efforts) is impossible for me to judge. It is all quite troubling, though.

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