A MUSICIAN has spoken of his surprise after an elephant joined him for a duet performance of a popular piano tune.

Paul Barton, a former music teacher at Ayton Friends School, in Great Ayton, North Yorkshire, was playing Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag at Elephantstay sanctuary near Bangkok, Thailand, as therapy for one of the giant creatures, when a ten-year-old male diverted from his regular evening trip to the river for a bath.

After Mr Barton encouraged Peter, whose Thai name is Noppakhao, to join in, he began playing clusters of chords with his trunk.

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He said: “I suddenly felt something strange sucking the back of my head and had an unexpected duet partner. I think Peter got it confused with Joplin's Stoptime Rag.”

Mr Barton, who also taught eurhythmy - the interpretation of the rhythm of musical compositions - at the Camphill Village Trust in Botton, on the North York Moors, before moving to Thailand, said when he played one section of the tune, the elephants twice replied with a trunk squeak on the beat.

The 51-year-year-old teaches piano in Thailand, but often visits the sanctuary with his wife.

A spokeswoman for the sanctuary said Peter, who also paints remarkably accurate pictures, was the most popular artist and entertainer among its 90 elephants.

She said: “He often squeals with delight when he gets a treat or gets excited playing.

“In contrast, his painting style is very deliberate and controlled. He favours painting from life, especially flowers, rather than abstract work.”

Mr Barton, a Royal Academy of Arts graduate, has played piano to elephants on numerous occasions after reading that Charles Darwin asked his wife to play for earthworms in a jar on top of her piano for scientific research. He said he enjoys watching the elephants’ reactions to different tunes.

He said: “I have noticed other animals do react to music when you play the piano - dogs will either come under your piano if you are playing well, or run away if you are playing badly, and elephants are very intelligent animals.”