Paul Barton is an entirely original soul, and a truly gifted multidisciplinary artist. But that alone is not what makes him such a celebrated individual. Rather, it is the remarkable story of how he has marshaled his talents to play piano for blind elephants in Thailand.
Barton was born in 1961 in Yorkshire, England, the son of an artist who taught him how to draw and paint. At 16, he enrolled at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, distinguishing himself in painting and portrait-drawing competitions. But after graduating at the age of 20, he chose a different path, embarking on a career as a concert pianist.
But soon, ever marching to the beat of his own drum, he realized this was not the life for him. He moved to Thailand, where he married a wildlife artist and established a studio in Bangkok.
Over the years, he has shared his life with his family on YouTube, where his recitals and instructional videos have generated millions of views.
But it was his work with elephants that really caught our attention. In Thailand, he learned about the plight of elephants that had been abused and blinded by forestry workers. These elephants were given sanctuary in Elephant’s World, a haven located next to the river Kwai. Barton and his wife have been working on rehabilitating the animals for over 20 years.
Barton had worked with blind children and knew the positive impact music could have on them. So, he took a piano into the jungle sanctuary and started to play for the elephants.
“If you play classical music to an elephant, something soft and beautiful… the reaction is priceless,” he says. “There is a special bond between you and the elephant. You are communicating with them in a different language. That language is neither ours nor theirs.”
For Barton, playing for the elephants is just a small part of making things right. It’s “a little thing I can do to say sorry for what my species has done to them.”