The Thai Elephant Orchestra began with a simple question: "If elephants can make beautiful paintings, why can't they make music?" (And by the word 'music' was meant not a circus elephant playing a huge toy piano but rather serious, beautiful music worthy of the attention given to human music.) Trying to answer this question led Dave Soldier and Richard Lair to embark on designing, making and buying the massive musical instruments needed.
The Orchestra's first recording was made in 1997 with five elephants at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center. From the very beginning it was clear that elephants could, with endless repetition, be taught to play complex patterns. The creators decided, however, that making music should be fun for the elephants. Thus, the only commands given to elephants are to start, stop, and occasionally the number of times to strike an instrument.
The Orchestra released its first music CD, Thai Elephant Orchestra, in 2001. It immediately became a worldwide media sensation, with critics and journalists treating the music with great respect. The second CD, Elephonic Rhapsodies, was released in 2005, involved 12 elephants. The Orchestra's third CD, Water Music, featuring 14 elephants playing together, was released in February of 2011. Besides pure elephant instrumentals the first two CDs also contained both human-elephant collaborations and songs by humans about elephants, but Water Music contains only music made by elephants playing exactly as they wish. (This will be the Orchestra's last album: not only is it losing money - very few people buy CDs anymore - but the creators have achieved all they ever hoped for.)
The Orchestra holds a world record in the Guinness Book of World Records as 'The World's Largest Animal Orchestra' and been featured in Ripley's Believe It Or Not. It has been featured on television on BBC, CNN, CBS, National Geographic, Animal Planet, and many others, including Jon Stewart's Daily Show
Newspaper stories have appeared in the New York Times, Independent, Wall Street Journal and many more. Magazine stories include pieces in People, TIME, The Economist, and many others.
Press stories, videos, and MP3 recordings of the Orchestra are available at http://www.mulatta.org/thaieleorchpage.html