Interview with TRW’s David Abbinanti on His New ‘Ghost the Musical’ Orchestrations

“…scored completely for live musicians and geared for the expertise and budgets of our stock and amateur organizations.”

GHOST THE MUSICALTheatrical Rights Worldwide is proud to now represent Ghost the Musical. The Broadway production was both visually and aurally stunning, with spectacular special effects surrounding the well-known characters first introduced in the award-winning movie. One of the big differences between the Broadway production and the version which TRW licenses is a brand new orchestration. We recently sat down with our Director of Music and Materials, David Abbinanti, to discuss this process and what to expect from our new version of Ghost the Musical.

TRW: Let’s start with the initial decision to create new orchestrations for the show as opposed to using the orchestrations from the Broadway production. What led to that decision?

DA: Obviously we were big fans of the musical when we saw it on Broadway. The songs are wonderful and the Broadway orchestrations, using live players in combination with recorded tracks and technological attributes required a specific environment. However, our role as the licensing source is to provide performance materials, especially orchestrations that are best suited to our marketplace. Therefore, the decision was made to create a new orchestration that is scored completely for live musicians and geared for the expertise and budgets of our stock and amateur organizations.

TRW: Is there a difference in the size?

DA: Yes. The Broadway orchestra was a 17-piece. Ours is a 9-piece.

TRW: And you did the orchestrations yourself?

DA: I did.

TRW: So take us through the process. How did you decide on the instrumentation?

DA: I spent a great deal of time studying the script, the characters and their storytelling and planned out the instruments based on musical styles associated with each moment in the show. Modern orchestration is very different than traditional orchestration. More often than not, the conductor plays piano. Most orchestrators today use at least two keyboards. So that was an immediate decision. After that, I had to examine the music and what styles were used. There is a good deal of “rock” so that immediately adds drums, bass and guitar. There are lush, romantic ballads which beg for strings. So I decided on a common pairing of one violinist and one cellist. For power I added a trumpet player and for color, one reed player who plays four instruments. Also, because of the rock nature of the score, I made the Keyboard 2 part into a Utility. The Utility primarily plays Keyboard 2 but also doubles on Acoustic Guitar. It’s all about the authors’ intent. The music will dictate which instruments are chosen. Once I had decided, I had a phone conversation with Glen Ballard and Dave Stewart and they approved the new instrumentation.

TRW: You also use some non-traditional instruments and techniques. Tell us what they are and why you incorporated them.

DA: GHOST is first and foremost, a love story. But three main characters also get killed. Two of the death sequences suggest demons taking the spirit away, so eerie effects needed to be used. The first thought I had was to double the violin on an instrument called a waterphone. When played with a bow, it sounds like a “door creaking” from an old horror movie. There are numerous times when I call for the guitarist to use an e-bow. There are also moments when the percussionist is called upon to use a violin bow on the cymbals. Little things like that can certainly provide the audience with a sense of uneasiness and fear. (It’s also fun for the musicians to do something different.)

TRW: Is the waterphone a common instrument that a violinist would have?

DA: I would guess that 99.9% of violinists don’t own a waterphone. But theatres do. If there is not one available, ad lib. harmonics on the violin can achieve a similar effect.

TRW: I understand there is one moment when the orchestra plays with a recorded track?

DA: Yes, there’s one time but it’s a plot point. Molly turns on the radio and “Unchained Melody” comes on. Sam sings along with the radio and the orchestra. Here, I made sure to score the scene very sparsely with just a few instruments—remaining sensitive to the fact that some Music Directors might be working solely with the sound coming out of the onstage radio. That number has minimal orchestration.

TRW: Will the keyboard patches be made available?

DA: Yes they will.  They are in the final stages of creation right now and will be available to all of our customers.

For more information about Ghost the Musical, including specific orchestra breakdown, visit: