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Ghost Train

Ghost Train was a total fluke.

In the fall of 1993, while an undergrad at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, I happened to hear the wind symphony rehearsing through closed doors. I snuck into the band room and sat entranced for 50 minutes, transported by what was, hands down, the single loudest music I had ever heard. 6 percussionists! 8 trumpets! I was in love.

After the rehearsal I approached Thomas Leslie, the conductor, and asked if I could write a piece for their group. He said (without hesitation), “sure, and if it turns out well we’ll play it at the CBDNA convention in the Spring.” Now, up to this point I had never written for instruments before, only singers, so I got all of my friends who were instrumentalists and took them through their paces: “What pieces do you love to play? Which register is most comfortable? Which instrument sounds best when doubled with your instrument? etc.” I struggled with the work all through Christmas break (I wrote it in Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe, and Waco Texas) and presented Tom with the first movement when school resumed. He played it beautifully at the convention, and BOOM… the thing took off like a shot. Band directors began calling me at home, trying to buy it from me, and my formal career as ‘composer’ had begun.

I wrote the second and third movement a year later, and Tom premiered the whole thing in the Spring of 1995. I graduated two months later and headed for Juilliard. Ghost Train is dedicated to the man who brought it to life, Mr. Thomas G. Leslie.

Available from all good retailers including Hal Leonard and J.W. Pepper.

  • Rachel Blair

    This is so much fun to play. Especially that insane clarinet part in the first movement. The exact interval escapes me and I haven't played it in about a year but its like a 12 or 13 step jump… repeated… on fast 8th notes. haha. insanely fun. So fun, yet so Whitacre with the dissonance and the super triplets. haha,

  • Mary Woods

    Wow!!!! My high school marching band did the YEARS ago… and at that time, I was not familiar with your music. I must say, this was my favorite show. We took second place at the Atlantic Coast Championships that year, I believe, and we actually used a real train horn at the end of the first movement.

    The way the sounds were captured.. perfectly.. I loved it. I'm so glad I realized the connection!!!!

  • Freddie Scadding

    Does anyone have any idea where I can buy this excellent recording? It is infinitely better than any that I have been able to find.

  • Ben Teagueb

    I played this recently with regional wind ensemble, loved it! Well done!

  • Sarah Ann

    My band director is thinking of playing this with the high school Wind Ensemble next year. I was already incredibly motivated to be in the WE, but now that this is part of the motivation, I'm positively hooked!

  • Dennis Sun

    It's a beautiful piece, while at the same time challenging. My high school's wind ensemble is playing it. Wish us luck!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=543346253 Mark Hansher

    This will be the third time playing this piece, all three movements, and I fall in love with it every time. The first play through was on the trumpet, loved that, then switched over to the piano and just had a blast playing in a style you don't get to often. Now I'm playing the piano part again and can't wait to perform it!

  • Steven Apergis

    My first encounter to this piece was the Klavier recording with the North Texas Wind Symphony. I play with the City of Fairfax Band. A few months after I purchased the CD, we programed to play the work at one of out concerts. (FYI: We are performing it again in our opening concert of the season on October 16, 2010.) I was shocked when I heard the original. The North Texas performance of the second movement would defiantly be considered considered revisionist. Instead of a tenor saxophone the solo is played on the soprano saxophone. The middle movement is turned a showpiece for the soprano sax and the piano with very extended jazz solos that do not appear in the original. During the introduction of the third movement, the sax and the piano continue to play.

    I eventually secured a recording of the original version. Although this revisionist performance sounds great, it almost ruined the music for me. It took me months to get used the original.

  • David Brock

    I love Ghost Train. We are playing the full piece on our concert here in a couple weeks. The only thing I have to say against it, is that as a bassoonist, I feel highly forgotten and neglected in this piece.

  • Linley Erickson

    I had to play this last year in band, at first I was scared of that oboe solo, now its one of my favorite solos to play on the oboe! Ghost Train is awesome!

  • Erin Endsley

    Wow. That was like Aaron Copeland and Glen Miller got on the Chattanooga Choo-Choo and rode it through hell. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

  • Claudia

    That. Was. Epic!

    To be honest, I have grown so attached to your choral music that I thought no wind or orchestra piece you wrote could ever match the beauty of "Sleep" or ethereality of "Water Night".

    Um, it totally just did.

  • Ed Looney

    Hey. The iTunes version of this has this bizarre sax/clarinet and piano duet which is like a jazz improvisation at the beginning (near the time when the low brass starts their ascending scale). is this supposed to be there? cuz it sounds really out of place.

    • http://www.ericwhitacre.com Eric

      Ed, no, it's an unauthorized version. Makes me crazy.

  • Chester Duggan

    This piece is so descriptive. It's such a rush to listen to every time! The jazz elements are a really brilliant touch. You should score films or something. Because this blows out of the water everything I've heard in film music in the past several years.

  • Sarah

    This is now my absolute favorite piece! Im usually not into the pieces my band directors pick out, but this the best piece ever. I love how the piece really paints a story of the train.

    Our band director said he meet you once and though you were wild and said that you were trying to bring out a sort of a rock style in some of the parts of the first movement?

    Anyway, Our band is playing it the night we're reciveing the Sudler Shield and Sudler Flag so we're trying to impress the guys who are coming to give it to us, and this will certainly do the job!

  • Michael Lee

    Hey, you said that the version with the sax/piano duet in “At the Station” is unauthorized? Does that mean that I should look for a recording other than the one performed by Eugene Corporon and the North Texas Wind Symphony? Actually, which one would you suggest? I’ve heard the Corporon/North Texas, the Berz/Rutgers, and the Waybright/University of Florida, in addition to the Leslie/UNLV one you’ve posted on this page.

    • Michael Lee

      Sorry, I meant the sax/piano duet at the beginning of “The Motive Revolution.” Anyways, which recording is generally considered the high standard against which the others are judged?

      • http://ericwhitacre.com Eric

        For me, it’s this one, the UNLV performance (I’m playing piano, and all the tempos match what was in my head).

  • http://unlvbands.com Tom Leslie

    It’s all history now, my friend. I wish there was a piece for my father….

  • Chris

    Wow, I first heard this piece played by our Grammy Signature Winning HS Wind Ensemble. Just to hear the creativity and imagination in the piece really opened my mind to music so much more. We got to play cloud burst a couple years later and I really respect Eric after not only hearing, but playing this music.

  • Matt

    This piece is truly is one of the greatest wind ensemble pieces ever written! I love how your style of writing paints that vivid imagery like the telling of a story through music!