It isn't Christmas until I hear Leroy Anderson's "Sleigh Ride," and the season came a little later this year than it usually does. I heard the piece for the first time this year only last week. It was the Carpenters' cover — who knew there was such a thing? — with a treacly background chorus. Yucky, but it counted. I was in the car, driving home from my new job in Norristown, where I work the evening shift. It was after 11 p.m., dark and cold.
I have heard it only once again since then. This time, I was on Route 76, on my way to work. It was the real thing — the original, classic orchestral version with the jazz inflections and the horse neighing at the end. It made me very happy, and anything that can make me happy while I'm driving on Route 76 qualifies as a Christmas miracle.
I had one other holiday treat on the hideous commute yesterday: Beginning at 2 p.m., WRTI broadcast an hour-long program of Anderson's Christmas music, hosted by his son, Kurt, and featuring interviews with the composer (Anderson died in 1975). The playlist included the "Christmas festival," a concert overture, and the suites of carols. It also included Sleigh Ride, but I was parked and in the office before we got to that.
Some interesting parallels between Anderson and Elliot Carter: They were born the same year (1908). They attended Harvard at the same time, though there is no indication they knew each other (Anderson was Class of 1929, Carter Class of 1930). They lived for years within a few miles of each other (Anderson in Woodbury, Conn., Carter in Waccabuc, N.Y.). And each was an accomplished linguist: Carter spoke French and Italian fluently, while Anderson, whose parents were Swedish, was an expert in Scandinavian languages. (During WWII, he was posted in Iceland, where he wrote an Icelandic grammar for US military personnel.) The only real difference is, Anderson has a website. Carter does not.