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Thai Elephant Orchestra

An orchestra of up to 16 elephants who perform at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang, Northern Thailand. I cofounded the TEO in 2000 with Richard Lair, a conservationist who lives in Lampang and is the world's foremost specialist in the care, upkeep, and status of the Asian elephant. The TEO recording sessions bring public awareness to the first center devoted to elephant conservation and give the elephants a pleasant activity to enjoy - and as you will hear, to make some very good music. And one has the chance to hang out with the elephants.

The orchestra per se very rarely performs in public, but four of the same elephants perform music for a few minutes a day at the Conservation Center, including a bit of solo free improvisation on a giant marimba.


Beethoven's sixth symphony performed by the TEO with Lampang High Marching Band, on their second CD, photo by Millie Young

This and other photos (SEE PAGE BOTTOM FOR A DOWNLOADABLE POWERPOINT FILE) can be used by the media without permission with credit for the photographer.

Watch a documentary film about the orchestra made by Paul Spurrier at higher resolution (or see at lower resolution here).

An article (from the book Kinship with Animals) by Dave Soldier on the Thai Elephant Orchestra

Link to the orchestra's new (Feb 2011) official website.

This TEO was inspired by painters Komar & Melamid who collaborated with animals for years, starting with a dog in the 70’s in Russia. They started painting with elephants at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center, which suggested to me and Richard, one of the Center’s directors, to see if elephants could play music, particularly as elephants like to listen to music.

We built over 22 giant instruments, mostly of steel, but also include commercial harmonicas and a variety of other instruments that can be played by the elephants. Many of the isntruments are based on those used in the local music traditions.

The third and final CD, Water Music, was released in February, 2011.

Water Music
2011
Dave Soldier/Richard Lair/ The Thai Elephant Orchestra
The ultimate recording, music for 14 elephants living at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang. Pieces by Dave Soldier & Richard Lair with the Orchestra and recorded live without edits, overdubs, or human sounds except for one piece with a Buddhist priest.

1. Invocation
2. The Last Monsoon of Summer
3. Gentle Monsoon
4. Gathering Storm Clouds
5. Two Rainbows
6. Bathing in the River
7. Sun Breaks Clouds
8. Clouds Cover Sun
9. Teak Forest Mist
10. Monsoon Tempest

Elephonic Rhapsodies
2004
Ganesha Triumphant
Little Elephant Saddle

Dave Soldier/Richard Lair Elephonic Rhapsodies (2004, Mulatta) Music for 12 elephants living at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang. Pieces by Dave Soldier & Richard Lair with the Orchestra and many homo sapien guests.
1. A Child's Guide to the Elephant Orchestra (Soldier/Lair)
2. Phong's Solo (Phong, improvisation by a 5 year-old elephant)
The Ganesha Symphony (Symphony #1)(Soldier/Lair) in four movements
3. The Birth of Ganesha
4. Shiva Beheads Ganesha
5. A Head is Found
6. Ganesha Trimuphant
7. Rhapsody in Grey (Soldier/Lair)
8. An Elephant's Swan Song (Soldier/Lair)
9. Three Baht Opera (Soldier/Lair)
10. Little Elephant Saddle (Trad.) Elephants with Dave on violin
11. Floating Down the Pin River (Trad.) Elephants with a local mahout hillbilly band
12. Pin Pia (Smithitham) Elephants with a traditional Thai instrument
13. Bamboo Dreams (Seiber/Lair) Elephants with cellist Jamie Seiber
14. Bamboolin (Muangling) Elephants with a bamboo violin
15. Dancing With Prathida (Seiber/Lair) Another with cellist Jamie Seiber
16. An Adult's Guide to the Elephant Orchestra (Soldier/Lair)
17. Kaw-Liga (Williams/Rose) Yes, they play Hank Williams with Thai hillbilly players
18. Pastorale Lite (Beethoven, Arr. Soldier) Elephant orchestra withmarching band
19. Homage to Harry Partch (Soldier/Lair)
20. Mr. Elephant (Trad., Arr. Soldier) Pop version with Japanese saxophonist
21. Baby Elephant Walk (Henry Mancini) the kid's marching band, only piece without elephants on the CD
22. Eletranz (David First) A pop dance mix for the orchestra by David First
23. Chang! Chang! Chang! (Trad., Arr. Soldier) A version of a Thai nursery rhyme, kids and elephants
24. Beethoven’sPastorale Symphony, First movement (Beethoven, Arr. Soldier) Marching band and elephant orchestra


Thai Elephant Orchestra
2001
Thung Kwian Sunrise

Dave Soldier/Richard Lair Thai Elephant Orchestra (2001, Mulatta) Music for 6 elephants living at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang. Pieces by Dave Soldier & Richard Lair with the Orchestra and recorded in the jungle by engineer Rory Young. Link to liner notes.
1. Thung Kwian Sunrise
2. Temple Music
3. Rainforest
4. Jojo
5. Duo for Renats
6. Big Band
7. Swing Swing Swing
8. Percussion Trio
9. Luuk Kob's Diddley Bow Feature
10. Harmonica Music
11. Heavy Logs
12. Now We're off to Paint
13. Elephant Field Recordings
14. Somneuk & Four Elephants
15. Trio for Theremin & Electric Keyboard
16. Ken's Wind Instrument
17. Big Elephant Saddle
18. Somneuk's Renat Solo
19. Chang Chang Chang

December 2012: here's an orchestra version of humans playing a piece by the elephants: Thung Kwian Sunrise. Wade Ripka transcribed what they played from the CD, and I arranged it for the Composer's Concordance Chamber Orchestra, with Thomas Carlo Bo conducting. We asked the audience to guess the composer, and they came up with John Cage, Alan Hovhaness, Dvorak, Milica Paranosic, and Charles Ives, but no one guessed elephants!


Reuters interview on Thai Elephant Orchestra
Read an article about the orchestra from the NY Times
Read an article in Time Magazine by Jennifer Gampell
Read an article from the Economist
Read an article in National Geographic (on Thai elephants, features the orchestra)
Watch a video shot by SBS in Australia with lots of playing
Hear a BBC radio interview
WNYC radio interview
Hear a long Canadian Radio interview
See a Swedish TV story with nice film clips of the performances
A review of Elephonic Rhapsodies in Seattle Weekly
a video of 3 of the elephants playing a trio (July 06) at the Center
article from Poland
Houston Press on the Elephants should win a Grammy for Water Music! (Feb, 2011)
Mother Jones article (2011)

Metafilter discussion

a funnier article by Dave on the orchestra and related projects this and related projects.

Download photos by Reno Taini that can be used, with attribution, for publication (download Powerpoint file)

Download another Powerpoint file with photos by Millie Young and Jerry Alexander that can be used with attribution

Image of Pratidah playin a drum by Millie Young that can be used with attribution