Composition: Sleigh Ride Composer: Leroy Anderson Completed: February 10, 1948 Instrumentation: Symphony Orchestra First Performed: May 4, 1948, Boston Pops Orchestra, Arthur Fiedler, conductor First Recording: April 25, 1949, Boston Pops Orchestra, Arthur Fiedler, conductor [analog monaural] Recorded by Leroy Anderson: September 11, 1950 [analog monaural] Decca Records Length: 3:00 First Stereo Recording: May 26, 1959, Leroy Anderson, Decca Records Transcriptions by Leroy Anderson: Concert Band; Piano Lyrics: 1950; Mitchell Parish First Vocal Recording: 1950, The Andrews Sisters
Composer quotes: "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."
Structure: 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.
Notes: Some 60 years after Leroy Anderson created Sleigh Ride, 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 several years after Anderson finished the composition.
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.
// Sleigh Ride has been recorded by a broader aesthetic range of performers than any other piece in the history of Western music.
—Steve Metcalf, the Hartford Courant (Connecticut)
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