Last Friday, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra began a brief run of shows for the visitors at Wisconsin's Circus World in Baraboo. The orchestra performed their concert underneath a giant circus tent, right next to the facility's animal pen. After the show, audience members who had gotten a clear view of some nearby elephants claimed that they'd seen the animals "visibly moving around behind the stage." This casual observation gave WCO violinist Eleanor Bartsch an inspired idea. The next day, on Saturday, she brought her violin out to the elephants and treated them to a private concert.
With help from her sister Alice, also a violinist with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, Bartsch began to play Johann Sebastian Bach's Concerto for Two Violins. On cue, Circus World's two visiting pachyderms, Kelly and Viola, began swaying back and forth in time to the melody. As Bartsch explained, "Bach is truly universal…"
That seems like a pretty spot on observation, because not only did the elephants enjoy the show, viewers across the world have reacted positively to the resulting video. Bartsch's video has currently surpassed 250,000 views on YouTube in just two short days. "I had no idea that the video would get as big as it did," she explains. "I initially just shared it with friends and family on Facebook, and put it on YouTube at the request of a friend. It just makes me happy that people are enjoying it."
Bartsch, who participates in more orchestras and symphonies than you can count, is a 25-year-old master's student at UW Madison. She's been playing the violin since the tender age of 4. Though her catalogue runs the gamut from hip hop to jazz, classical music has always been her first love.
"We as musicians are always looking for creative ways and places to share," she explains. "I was very excited for the opportunity to play a piece I've loved for as long as I can remember with my talented colleagues at the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra at such an unorthodox venue!"
The venue, Circus World, is one-of-a-kind. A museum that's owned by the Wisconsin Historical Society, Circus World, in the words of the site's librarian, "collects everything from posters to artifacts to photographs to wagons - [Circus World] actually contains the largest collection of circus wagons in the United States. We have also what you might call a living history program which is our summer seasonal performance where we recreate a one-ring circus which uses contemporary circus acts."
Since Circus World keeps no full time animals on the property (they stock animals based on the needs of their incoming acts), it was, presumably, for one of these circus acts that the two elephants, Kelly and Viola, were brought in. Had it been another day or another season, Eleanor Bartsch may not have been able to share her love of Bach with them (or the world at large). But share she did, and the response has been overwhelming.
"I'm not quite sure why the elephants started moving like they did right then (and there are a lot of internet theories)," Bartsch says, adding, "but I would like to think it was because they enjoyed the music on some level." Listening to Bach's dulcet tones and watching the gentle satisfaction on the trunks of the audience, you'd be hard pressed to disagree.