Railroader Debuts at Carnegie Hall

Attila Gibson, a Union Pacific foreman general in the West Colton, California, locomotive shop, recently performed at New York City’s famous Carnegie Hall.

The crowd inside New York City’s famous Carnegie Hall sits in hushed anticipation. Inside the jewel box of a performance space, two dozen musicians wait their turn to step onto the stage, sit at a gleaming black grand piano, and dazzle the audience with a piece of original music. Among the performers is someone you may not expect to see: Attila Gibson, a Union Pacific foreman general in the West Colton, California, locomotive shop.

Musical talent runs in Gibson’s blood. His dad passed on an ear for music and an almost innate ability to play the piano, but died in a car accident shortly after Gibson was born. “I never knew my dad so I don’t feel any real connection to him,” he said. “But my mother told me he was very talented.”

Gibson began his Union Pacific career 17 years ago.

Throughout his 45 years, Gibson’s music has always been both a comfort and an escape from life’s trials. “It’s a coping skill for me,” he explains. “Whatever I’m feeling, good or bad, music is an extension of my emotions.”

Gibson didn’t appreciate the value of his gift until he entered rehab to face an addiction problem. As he started to experience sobriety, he came to view his music — and the role it plays in his life — in a whole new light.

At the concert, Gibson played “A Good Day,” an upbeat, light and happy tune.

“I didn’t play the piano for about a year,” Gibson said. “For so long, music was an escape, a way to channel whatever pain I was feeling.” When he was sober, and things with work and his family were going well, the pull of the piano just wasn’t there. But soon enough, he felt something was missing in his life. When he sat down at the piano again, Gibson found that it was no longer a method of escaping reality; it was simply something he enjoyed.

Over a decade later, Gibson found himself preparing to perform at Carnegie Hall. He was invited to participate in the performance after fellow musician Donovan Johnson heard some of his music. Johnson is the founder of Enlightened Piano Radio, an Internet radio station that features contemporary piano music. Today, there are about 130 musicians in the EPR network, two dozen of whom were invited to perform at Carnegie Hall.

Gibson’s wife, Heather Naftzger, left, traveled with him to New York City for the performance.

Gibson’s music still encapsulates what he’s feeling, but the motivation is completely different. “Now, if I play something when I’m angry it just spices up the music,” he adds. Conversely, the song he plans to play is upbeat, light and happy.

“I mean look, it’s pretty cool that on my first trip to New York City I got to play at Carnegie Hall,” he said. “I’m no bible-thumper, but even I can’t deny the fact that there’s something else at work here. It’s amazing how God can put some great things in your life when you’re not destroying yourself.”

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