A neuroscientist by day, Dave Sulzer explores synapses formed by the midbrain dopamine projections that underlie reward, learning and voluntary motor control. But by night, as Dave Soldier, he’s an avant-garde musician. Getting a second wind in retirement (Jonathan Michael Peel)
Should we be surprised, then, that he has such an appreciation for the artistic accomplishments of elephants? Or that he conducts an orchestra of multi-ton retirees from the logging industry? An orchestra that, boasts his partner in the enterprise, Richard “Professor Elephant” Lair, is “three-times the weight of the Berlin Philharmonic”?
Without a score or elaborate cueing and with few limitations beyond Dave’s deliberate gestures to start and stop them, these lucky instrumentalists play pretty much what they want and have a ball improvising on cymbals, gongs, renaats and harmonicas. Dave says some of the players don’t stop when he tells them to do so—even when they KNOW that’s what they should do—just for the fun of it! What teases!
And what characters! As in any ensemble, each player is his or her own person. Some of the elephants took to their instruments from the get-go, while others had to practice quite a bit to connect with their inner artist. Mei Kot, “the 8,000-pound seventeen- year-old-girl,” was frightened at first by the gong but later was eager to play it. Pattidah so loved playing the renaat that Dave couldn’t get her to stop. And Poong, the six-year old elephant boy, became the best renaat player, until he got bored with it. So like a youngster! Dave tells about Pratidah and Luk Kang, two teenage girl elephants who would run up to each other when they happened to meet, stroking and cooing, as adolescent girls will do.
The orchestra did a command performance for her majesty queen Sirikit of Thailand, whose favorite piece was ” My Way.” Surely, Dave Sulzer can look back on his life and claim that he, too, did it his way!