Leroy Anderson:Sleigh Ride

For the 3rd week of Listening Friday Christmas we are looking at a piece that is considered by many to be the quintessential in Christmas listening activity.  I'm speaking of none other than Leroy Anderson's (1908-1975) "Sleigh Ride".

Giddy-up, giddy-up, giddy-up let's...oh.
Mr. Anderson was born in Cambridge to Swedish parents, and took an early interest in music from his mother's organ playing and his father's mandolin. He was a student of piano and trombone in his early years, eventually studying composition at the New England Conservatory and Harvard.  An interesting side note is that he did not have full confidence in his capability to make a decent living working as a musician or composer.  He was quite adept at linguistics and worked towards a Phd. in the study of the German and Scandinavian languages as his "backup plan". As a result, he came to master eleven languages in total. His language skills were also tapped by the Army in 1942 when he was drafted by the US Army and stationed in Iceland as a counter-intelligence officer. However, as you probably have guessed, he ended up remaining with music as a career and the rest is obvious. 

Anderson eventually rose to the ranks of band director at Harvard during his graduate study there which is when he caught the attention of Arthur Feidler, the conductor of the Boston Pops at the time.  Anderson had quite the knack for creating arrangements of light, enjoyable music that captured the heart and imagination of the people of his generation. The appeal of Leroy Anderson for me is that he's a gateway composer of sorts. His arrangements captured the identity of mid 20th century America and have continued to provide a soundtrack for the so-called "good ol' days".

Anderson wrote "Sleigh Ride" in 1948 and Tin-Pan Alley lyricist, Mitchell Parish, wrote lyrics for it two years later. It became an instant hit with the Boston Pops, and has been recorded numerous times and performed by the orchestra on a yearly basis.  Wikipedia boasts a list of about 150 recordings of the work by various artists across many genres of music.

And the "Creepiest Christmas Album Cover" award goes to...
An interesting note about the lyrics, it doesn't actually mention a lick about Christmas. It's essentially some guy riding around on a carriage in the early 20th century in a snow storm with some chick. They go to some farmer's birthday party and have a blast, eating pumpkin pie. Anderson himself got the idea for the work in the middle of July, during a noticeably snow-less point in the year. How it came to be known as the Christmas piece can only be attributed to it's use of sleigh bells.  You see, I have a theory...

Any Music + Sleigh Bells = Holiday Magic
So, as you recover from overeating dry Turkey and many unnecessary injuries at the hands of violence-crazed shoppers at WalMart, I invite you to kick your feet up and listen to two renditions of Leroy's most recognizable piece.  The first is of course the original played by none other than the Boston Pops (led by a very young John Williams!) and the second is an exciting rendition by Bela Fleck and the Flecktones (though it does lack the infamous trumpet "neigh").

Enjoy the leftover turkey and all the stuff you bought today.  

Homework: Write a short story about what happens on the sleigh ride.

See you next Friday.