Songs of Christmas…Sleigh Ride

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This is part 27 of an Advent/Christmas series titled “Songs of Christmas.” For other parts of the series see the index. The index also contains the introduction for the series.

During my writing and researching the posts for this series, I have been quite surprised by two things. First, the number of Christmas songs written in the summer. It really makes sense, if you think about it. If the song’s performance is to be at Christmas and there is to be time for writing and arranging music as well as sometimes adding lyrics not to mention rehearsal time for performers and possibly recording the song, all before the arrival of the Christmas season, it is almost surprising the process doesn’t begin more often as soon as Christmas is over for the the current year meaning preparation should begin for the next year. Second, the number of “Christmas” or at least “Holiday” songs that at least had some serious assistance along the way by people of the Jewish faith.

“Sleigh Ride” fits both of these things. It is one of those tunes written in the summer, except it wasn’t ready for the next Christmas. It was two years after the writing of the music before the song’s debut performance or recording. Second, the lyrics were written by a man of the Jewish faith.

Like so many other things, during The Great Depression, The Boston Pops Orchestra was having financial difficulty. When Arthur Fiedler, a violinist, pianist and percussionist, took over the direction of The Boston Pops, he quickly saw the need to expand the audience. To that point the Pops played for Boston’s elite. The common working class saw the music and the concerts as stuffy events they could neither afford nor had desire to attend.

Fiedler changed all that. He changed the musical genre to combine what he saw as the best of contemporary music such as jazz with the sounds of classical music. The plan worked and changed the direction of the Pops forever.

Fiedler began relying on a Boston area composer named Leroy Anderson for music the orchestra would play. Anderson wrote several songs before World War II but at the beginning of the war, Anderson entered military service. He actually continued writing during the war years.

When the war ended Anderson returned to Boston and took up where he left off. During a July heat wave in 1946 he came up with the basic idea for “Sleigh Ride.” As Anderson sat down to write, he wanted to create a sound that was so distinct there would be no question as one listened that the song was about going on a sleigh ride in the cold of winter.

Anderson never got in a hurry to complete his work. He worked and edited until he knew it was right. In the case of “Sleigh Ride” it took almost two years to complete, finishing in 1948. Once complete, Fiedler and the Pops recorded the song in 1949. The release of the song was in early winter 1949, just before Christmas. It was a hit that became one of the signature songs of the Pops. The Pops also recorded the song two additional times under the direction of the two conductors who succeeded Fiedler.

When he heard first heard the song, lyricist Mitchell Parish (born to a Jewish family as Michael Hyman Pashelinsky) heard the song and wanted to put words to the tune, not to detract from Anderson’s work but to enhance it. Once completed, there was no shortage of performers desiring to record it, probably based on the original instrumental version and Parish’s reputation as a lyricist. “The Andrews Sisters” were the first to record the version that included lyrics. Since that time there has been a long list of those who recorded both the instrumental version as well as the lyrics version.

Since the song was written, it has only made a trip up the music charts once. Considering the number of recordings of “Sleigh Ride” that is kind of surprising. According to ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) the song maintains a position in the top ten of Christmas music each year.

When I think about this song, it seems to me, The Great Depression came close to putting The Boston Pops out of business as happened to many orchestras. But, at the same time, had it not been for The Great Depression Arthur Fiedler may never have become to conductor of the Pops, leading to its change in direction and eventually the recording of “Sleigh Ride.”

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Joy and Peace,
Keith

Copyright 2016, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Sources

Collins, Ace, Stories Behind the Best Loved Songs of Christmas, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001.

Collins, Andrew, Stories Behind the Greatest Hits of Christmas, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010.

Gant, Andrew, The Carols of Christmas: A Celebration of the Surprising Stories Behind Your Favorite Holiday Songs, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2015.

Osbeck, Kenneth W. Joy to the World: The Stories Behind Your Favorite Christmas Carols, Grand Rapids: Kregal, 1999.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sleigh_Ride

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leroy_Anderson

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Fiedler

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mitchell_Parish

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boston_Pops_Orchestra

Author:

Spirita Spiro (Esperanza for "Spirit's Breath) is rather new in my life. But the blog is not. I began writing a blog several years ago. It lived under the title, "The Pastor Ponders." Over the years I have tried several different names and "The Pastor Ponders" always seemed to fit best. I am trying again with Spirita Spiro. For 27 years I was a full-time pastor in the United Methodist Church. This year, August 2018, I semi-retired (I can't actually retire quite yet) and began teaching social studies. It is something I have always wanted to do and if I was going to do this, I needed to make it sooner rather than later. So, I made the move. I thought with the career change there also needed to be a name change to the blog and other things, such as spiritual direction. Spirita Spiro is my attempt to share some of my thoughts. I often share what I am thinking with my dog "Bishop," but he keeps his thoughts to himself. He will even go to sleep sometimes while I am sharing my thoughts with him. The truth is, if it doesn't involve getting his ears scratched, his belly rubbed or some kind of treat, he really doesn't care. I will say this for him, he never argues with me or tells me I am wrong. So, I decided to share some of my thoughts with whoever might come across this blog in their ramblings around the Internet. I live with my wife Cindy and our little dog in Lufkin, Texas. I spent the past 27 years as a full-time United Methodist pastor. Most recently I served as pastor of First United Methodist Church in Sweeny, Texas. I have also served United Methodist congregations throughout East Texas including rural Madison County (Elwood UMC), Lovelady (First UMC) and Kennard (Center Hill UMC), Canton (First UMC), rural Smith County (Mt. Sylvan UMC and Union Chapel UMC), Grapeland (First UMC), Tyler (Pleasant Retreat UMC), Santa Fe (Aldersgate UMC), Freeport (First UMC) and Oyster Creek (Oyster Creek UMC), Diboll (First UMC), and now Sweeny (First UMC). My wife Cindy and I have been married for over 40 years. We have two grown sons. Wayne and his wife Nikki and all our grandsons (Kaleb, Noah, and Jaxon) live in Southern California. Christopher and his wife Morgan and both our granddaughters (Jenna and Natalie) live in Tyler Texas. I enjoy preaching and all aspects of preaching from research to writing to the actual preaching event. I also love writing, reading, playing the guitar as well as a bit of drawing. I have spent quite a bit of time over the past two years working with paracord on various projects, mostly prayer ropes I usually give away. I sing bass with a local barbershop chorus called The Coastalaires. I have also recently begun doing a little wood carving. I also enjoy playing with Bishop, something he likes a great deal better than listening to my thoughts. I hold an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Business Data Processing, specializing in Microcomputers from San Jacinto College in Pasadena, Texas, a Bachelor of Science in Political Science with a minor in History from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, TX, a Master of Divinity from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX and a Doctor of Ministry from Carolina University of Theology. When I was a student at Carolina, the school was in Iron Station North Carolina. They have since relocated to Manassas Virginia (Yeah, go figure, a school named Carolina geographically in Virginia). This blog is mostly devotional writing, but there are other things here too. Just about every week I will either post my sermon manuscript or a video of the worship service. On occasion, I will post something I see in society. Occasionally I write a short story, a poem, or a song and will post it here too. I will say this, my motivations for writing this blog are really selfish. I write it to get what I am thinking out of my head and onto something a bit more permanent. They say, after all, once something is on the internet it never really goes away. Still, I hope you enjoy reading it. And, should you desire, you can one-up Bishop and actually tell me what you think. Who knows, it might generate a bit of discussion between you and me and anyone else who might make their way here. With Joy and Thankfulness, Keith Sweeny, Texas May 2018

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