[It] usually starts in the weeks before Christmas and peaks around the holiday itself, but it continues through the winter and into the spring. … Our daughter begins cautioning me around Easter that it’s getting out of season. When I start whistling it in July, she … stops me with a cautionary “Dad!”
(Actually, I see nothing wrong with jauntily whistling “Sleigh Ride” on a hot summer day. It mentally cools one off. Besides, legend has it that Anderson wrote the piece during a sweltering summer when the well on his Woodbury home had gone dry. If it kept him in a good mood through that, why not me?)“What do Leroy Anderson, Lady Gaga have in common?”
“Living Here,” Republican-American, December 23, 2012
Our daughter will no doubt caution me that I’m rushing the season again. But after our visit to the Leroy Anderson House over the weekend, I’m back to whistling the composer’s tunes. His popular holiday classic “Sleigh Ride” is at the top of the list.
It’s at the top of a lot of other lists, too, including the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers Top 25 Holiday Songs of 2021—again. If your idea of holiday music is Mariah Carey, you’re on the wrong blog.
But it wasn’t intended as a Christmas song. Even the Mitchell Parish lyrics never mention anything much more Christmas-y than pumpkin pie. In the Leroy Anderson Foundation’s page on “Sleigh Ride,” his widow, Eleanor, explained. “”Leroy didn’t set out to write a Christmas piece when he wrote ‘Sleigh Ride.’ His intentions were to convey the entire winter season through the imagery of a sleigh ride, much in the way that Mozart did with his piece of the same name.”
So I guess I’m not out of season to whistle it now, after all.
But it truly was out of season when the idea struck the composer. Or, rather, when he struck upon the idea. After World War II, the Andersons had settled into a cottage her mother bought for retirement. In a heat wave in the summer of 1946, the dug well went dry.
Rolf Anderson told us his father was outside in the yard, probing the ground for a buried pipe from a nearby spring, when he noticed the rhythm of the strikes. Tap-tap-tap-tap. He ran inside to write it down. From there, perhaps it’s best to let the composer tell the story himself.
Personally, I’ve always preferred the brassy instrumental version made famous by the Boston Pops. But if you’re more familiar with the song, here’s Leroy Anderson talking about how he worked with lyricist Mitchell Parish. Here’s what the final product sounds like as a song.
Go ahead. Hum it, whistle it. It’s great winter musical fare. And there’s nothing in the score that says “Do not open until Christmas!”
Want to read more of the column quoted here? You can, online, at Newslibrary.com. Under Advanced Search, search for “Howard Fielding” in All Text, “Republican-American” in Source, and “Lady Gaga” in All Text. (Yes, really, it will take you right there!)