A dawn chorus for elephants in New York City

The author with Grammy-award winning composer, Paul Winter.

At dawn in New York City on the summer solstice, 600 people assembled to celebrate the longest day of the year.

They had gathered in the magnificent Cathedral of St. John the Divine to witness a beautiful two-hour musical journey by Grammy-award winning saxophonist and composer Paul Winter.

The concert began in pitch darkness as the sun rose, gradually illuminating the 10,000 pieces of glass in the resplendent Rose Window. The tuba, cello, French horn and saxophone were mingled with the booming calls of elephants. The audience was captivated by the poignant and resonating sounds of these impressive creatures, reverberating around the huge cathedral.

The elephant sounds were recorded by animal behaviour experts Katie Payne and Joyce Pool in Kenya. Paul was originally inspired to use the sounds of animals in his music when he heard the beautiful and haunting sounds of humpback whales.

In the seventies he played saxophone to gray whales off the coast of Vancouver Island in an attempt to communicate with whales, which made world news and ultimately helped in the fight to end Soviet whaling.

Almost 40 years later, Paul has been inspired by the impressive sounds of elephants and moved to highlight the plight they are currently facing.

Elephants are incredibly social creatures and communicate on many levels.

Acoustically they use a range of complex and sophisticated low frequency rumbles to communicate over large distances, often below the range of human hearing and can recognise the calls of individuals up to two kilometres away!

As the elephant echoes faded into the depths of the cathedral it was a poignant reminder of how these animals are literally being silenced by poachers’ guns, just to supply ivory trinkets to China, Japan and Thailand.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) was lucky to be one of the NGOs selected to highlight our work at the concert along with our friend Anne Dillon from the Population Media Center.

I’m so glad I found such a fitting way to see in the summer solstice.


For more information on our work to protect elephants, visit our campaign page.

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Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
James Isiche, Regional Director, East Africa
Regional Director, East Africa
Jason Bell, Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Consulting Senior Advisor to the CEO on Strategic Partnerships & Philanthropy