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Leroy Anderson

Most Americans -- and millions more people around the world -- can identify this brilliant tune from the first notes of its deftly syncopated introductory fanfare. Sleigh Ride is one of the most popular of all Christmas seasonal songs, either as an instrumental or with its words by Mitchell Parish.

Leroy Anderson was the son of first-generation Swedish immigrants. Born in Cambridge, MA, he had ample opportunity to receive musical instruction, beginning with lessons from his mother, who was an organist. He studied with such notable composers as Walter Piston and George Enescu. His academic instructors encouraged him to consider a career as a serious composer, but Anderson found he had a gift for immediately catchy melodies and applied the utmost craft, skill, and gift for orchestration in making pops concert music.

At the age of 30, a piece he wrote called Jazz Pizzicato was accepted by the Boston Pops and became a hit in their concerts. Their recording of it was also a bestseller and launched Anderson on an outstanding career as America's best composer of light concert music.

Many of his pieces were premiered on records by the Leroy Anderson Orchestra, actually the name for a studio orchestra assembled for the sessions. Sleigh Ride was such a composition.

Anderson had his home and studio in Connecticut, where he composed strictly in his head, at a desk, never at a piano. Looking forward to a release for the coming winter season, he composed Sleigh Ride as an instrumental piece during a heat wave in July 1948. It is a meticulously crafted work. Anderson recorded the song soon thereafter, it was a major hit of the Christmas season, and was soon played by various orchestras and bands.

The work has an unusual form; after the brief fanfare-like introduction (a fragment of the "B" theme) it can be schematized as AABAACC'AA. The second repetition of the "C" melody is modified by exchanging its ending for the second half of the "B" theme, the same source as the opening fanfare. Details like this are typical of Anderson's special ability to write tunes that a wide audience loves, while still maintaining high intellectual appeal through imaginative, fresh approaches to the music.

In 1950, the master lyricist Mitchell Parish, already a highly important figure for adding words after the fact to such great standards as Hoagy Carmichael's Stardust and Glenn Miller's Moonlight Serenade, submitted proposed lyrics for Sleigh Ride. Parish's words precisely matched the tone of the song and propelled it to another run on the hit parade in 1950.

It is thought that Anderson and Parish never met, but the lyricist went on to write words for other Anderson instrumentals, including Blue Tango, the 1952 song that was the second-best-selling record of that year.

Sleigh Ride remains Anderson's best-known piece. It has been recorded in numerous Christmas anthologies by leading pops and symphony orchestras and choruses, and by vocalists from Bing Crosby and Perry Como to the Spice Girls.