Sunday, December 5, 2010
Just hear those sleigh bells ring-a-ling ...
Say what you want about Messiah or the Christmas Oratorio. For me, the season doesn’t start until I hear LeRoy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride.” And it has to be the original orchestral version, with the clip-clopping and the whip snapping and the neighing at the end — none this Johnny-Mathis-coffee-and-pumpkin-pie-by-the-fire bullshit. This year I was fortunate to hear it early — the day after Thanksgiving over a car radio. So now I’m in the holiday mood. It won’t last, so I’ll take this opportunity to wish everyone a happy (insert your holiday here).
Anderson (1908-75) was my favorite composer for a little while when I was a teenager. (Am I square or what?) I don’t listen to him much anymore, but I’ve always been grateful to him for teaching me how to listen to an orchestra at a time when no one I know was listening to orchestras. His music still occupies a little soft spot in my heart. It’s wonderful, light stuff, very catchy and tuneful — the equal, in its bouncy American way, of Johann Strauss the younger, imho.
I once had the pleasure of speaking to Anderson’s widow. I had to double check a title or something for an article, and I went to the LeRoy Anderson website and found a phone number to call for information. I called the number and left a message, and within an hour or so Mrs. Anderson herself called me back. I was stunned. We spoke for a long while, as I recall. She seemed genuinely happy anyone would take an interest in her husband’s music, and I was surprised to learn that the Andersons knew the Elliott Carters. Carter and Anderson were born the same year, both attended Harvard at the same time, and for a while they lived “right down the road” from one another, as Mrs. Anderson put it — the Carters in Waccabuc, New York, the Andersons just over the line in Connecticut.
Besides being classmates and composers, Carter and Anderson shared a talent for languages. Carter speaks French and Italian and reads German and Greek and Latin and heaven knows what else. Anderson, the son of Swedish immigrants, mastered all of the Scandinavian tongues.
Posted by Joe Barron at 2:42 PM
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"Sleigh Ride" was a winter concert staple for our high school band since, like Jingle Bells, it has nothing to do with Christmas. Although I played the french horn most of the time, in "Sleigh Ride" I got to do the novelty percussion. The whipcrack, which was two hinged slats of wood that slapped together, was the most fun. The clip-clop sound came, I think, from a set of hollow things, the size of, well, horses' hooves, and were pitched and struck with mallets. The sleigh bells were just sleigh bells on a stick. It was as close as I ever got to being a star in band, since I played second horn and not that well.
The middle school band in the Colonial District, Montgomery County, Pa., is slated to play "Sleigh Ride" at its winter concert tomorrow, Dec. 15. Anderson is truly an underground immortal: not revived much anymore by grown up professionals, but familiar to student ensembles all over the country. I'd like somehow to keep a running tally of the performances.
Oh, and Eric is right. Sleigh ride has nothing to do with Christmas. It merely depicts a winter scene. Of course, i associate it with the season because that's the only time we ever hear it, and it does show up frequently on Christmas albums. This morning, I heard Der Bingle singing "Let It Snow" on the radio, and it was suddenly clear that song has nothing to do with Christmas, either. The scales have dropped. My eyes have been opened. I shall be re-evaluating every Christmas song I hear from now on.
You just missed an opportunity to hear Sleigh Ride! The Ambler Symphony played it yesterday and last Wednesday at their holiday concerts.
The La Salle College high School Band also played it Monday night.
There was another one we beat the tar out of in the spring. Year after year. I'll post it if I think of it. "Sleigh Ride" at least was fun.
I remember now. The spring victim was Ralph Vaughn Williams' "English Folk Song Suite". I take back what I said: the folk song suite was fun, too, at least at first.
Ok, now it's a problem. I can't get the damn song out of my head ...
Sorry. I'll never mention another catchy tune to you as long as I live. Funny how that doesn't work with visuals. If I mention the Mona Lisa, you don't spend the next five days saying, "Damn him. I've been staring that woman in the face for five days now. I'm gonna stick him with Les Demoiselles d'Avignon the first chance I get."
I meant Sleigh Ride, so it's my fault, really. I can't recall any of the Vaughn Williams at the moment.
I love all the classic christmas tunes...It's just like you said when they are played again after a year off they sound so new all over again. I love it!
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