"Sleigh Ride" was one of the first things I wrote when I got out of the Army and moved up here to Woodbury, Connecticut. Actually, I first came here in 1946; you may remember there was a housing shortage then, and my mother-in-law was living up here, had a cottage that was vacant, so since we had no other place to go, we packed our 14-month old daughter, plus the upright piano, and came on up here to Woodbury, and during that first summer that we were here, I started "Fiddle-Faddle", I didn't finish that until the following winter, and "Sleigh Ride" and "Serenata". And "Sleigh Ride", I remember, was just an idea because, it was just a pictorial thing, it wasn't necessarily Christmas music, and it was written during the heat wave."
After the introduction which features the horns, the first part or "A-section" of "Sleigh Ride" starts out with the steady rhythm of sleigh bells set in B♭. The main theme is established by Anderson with a melody that can only be described as cheerful. The second part or "B-section" changes from B♭ to G. Temple blocks create the sound of the horse's hooves through this middle part, which was the music Anderson originally came up with in the summer of 1946. Realizing that it was not strong enough to serve as a beginning, Anderson made this the middle part to "Sleigh Ride" and created the stronger melodic themes that "bracket" the middle section. The middle section is where the whipcrack is introduced. Next Anderson repeats the theme of the first part or "A-section" and introduces a signature "jazz element" featuring the trumpets and trombones. The whipcrack and horse whinny bring the piece to an end. While some orchestral versions omit the whipcrack, possibly because their percussionist does not have one, the horse whinny has become a technique that every student of the trumpet must learn. The horse whinny is also occasionally omitted in some performances and recordings which suffer from the omission. As many times as "Sleigh Ride" is performed, audiences never tire of it. After they receive the downbeat to start together, most orchestras can play "Sleigh Ride" perfectly without a conductor.
Mills Music, Leroy Anderson's publisher in 1949, suggested to Leroy that a lyricist be hired to write lyrics for "Sleigh Ride". Mills thought that lyrics would help to make the piece more popular. Mitchell Parish had written the lyrics for "Stardust" and other songs. He had a reputation for being able to write very good lyrics for an existing composition. Normally a lyricist would collaborate with the composer and often would choose the title. Not in this case.
Leroy was impressed with Mitchell Parish and was satisfied that the lyrics that Parish had written were good. Parish wrote lyrics to numerous other Anderson compositions. The two men became friends in the process. Parish's lyrics certainly contributed to the popularity of "Sleigh Ride". The vocal version has always been much more popular than the instrumental version. Note that Sleigh Ride is not merely a song. There is much more to Sleigh Ride than a strong melody, sleigh bells, whip cracks and a horse whinny. It is a sophisticated composition which is based on classical musical forms.
Comparison between the original symphonic score and all vocal versions
The differences between the original instrumental version and all vocal versions are significant. Leroy Anderson scored "Sleigh Ride" for full orchestra. The complexity of the original composition does not leave room for lyrics. There is "too much music". In vocal versions, the voice(s) sing the melody. Rather than having the vocalist compete with the string instruments, their part is diminished in vocal editions. Once you arrange "Sleigh Ride" for fewer instruments, the composition becomes even more simplistic in structure. You may still love the piece, but the listening experience is not at all the same. The result is that all vocal versions of "Sleigh Ride" are musically simplistic
The same is true of arrangements for smaller ensembles, no matter how well scored or well performed they may be. "Sleigh Ride" has been arranged for band, marching band, concert band, jazz ensemble, piano, piano duet, organ, string quartet, dance orchestra, brass quintet, tuba quartet, handbell choir, flute choir, accordion, ukulele choir, and percussion ensemble, and more,
Lyrics were commissioned by Mills Music to be written in French ("Promenade en traîneau"), Spanish ("Passeo en trineo"), Italian ("Corsa in slitta"), Dutch ("Slee Rit"), Swedish ("Slädfärd på två"), Norwegian ("Sledtur") and Finnish ("Rekiretki"). Since then even more sets of lyrics have been written in Swedish, Finnish and Italian which are not always "literal" translations but which demonstrate respectfully and tastefully the incredible versatility of the composition.
Leroy Anderson conducted a studio orchestra in his May 26, 1959 Stereo recording of "Sleigh Ride" for Decca Records. 53 musicians, many of whom were the Principals of their respective orchestra sections, came to perform for the recording. They were chosen from the New York Philharmonic, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the NBC Symphony, the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, The Goldman Band and the Beaux Arts Trio.
The studio orchestra included 18 violins, 6 violas, 5 celli, 2 basses, 2 flutes, 1 piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, and 3 drummers. These superb musicians assembled to create the recording of "Sleigh Ride" against which all other recordings are compared. Decca Records (US) was acquired by MCA (Music Corporation of America) which is now part of UMG (Universal Music Publishing Group). This 1959 Decca recording can be heard on the MCA disc titled "The Best of Leroy Anderson: Sleigh Ride" (MCAD-11710].
ASCAP, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, named Sleigh Ride the most popular piece of Christmas music in the USA in 2009, 2010, 2011 and again in 2012. Leroy Anderson's original recording of "Sleigh Ride" was the version most often played in 2010 based on performance data tracked by airplay monitoring service, Mediaguide, from over 2,500 radio stations nationwide. "Sleigh Ride" was aired 174,758 times in 2010, making it the most-played holiday song on radio for the second year in a row. "Sleigh Ride" was played 118,918 times during the same time period in 2009.
In December 2020 ASCAP ranked Sleigh Ride #4 in the USA for 2020.
73 years after Leroy Anderson created Sleigh Ride (1948), the composition is still ranked as one of the 10 most popular pieces of Christmas music worldwide. This is in spite of the fact that the word "Christmas" is never mentioned in the lyrics which Mitchell Parish wrote two years after Anderson finished the composition.
Worldwide Recordings of Sleigh Ride of all Musical Styles:
Over 8,000 (eight thousand) individual recordings of Sleigh Ride have been made worldwide in all styles of music since 1948.www.discogs.com
Notable Classical Recordings:
Boston Pops Orchestra
Pops Concert Orchestra
Boston Pops Orchestra
RCA Victor Red Seal 7" 45rpm #ERA-63
Pops Concert Orchestra
Decca "The Best of Leroy Anderson: Sleigh Ride" (MCAD-11710]
Copyrights to the music of Leroy Anderson
are held by Woodbury Music Company LLC.
For information concerning the use
of Leroy Anderson's music,
contact the Leroy Anderson family at: