|Leroy Anderson was interviewed in the 1960's by
Dick Bertel of WTIC Radio, Hartford, Connecticut.
Q. Let's start off with a question about Christmas music.
What is Christmas music in general? What makes it so special?
A. Well, Christmas music is special because of the fact that
Christmas is special; such an important religious holiday; so naturally anything
associated with it has a special place in our lives and, of course, music even more so
because music has the most special and the most personal place in our lives.
Q. I think probably music more than anything else
expresses a feeling of joy at Christmas, wouldn't you say?
A. It certainly does because there's a variety of expression at
Christmas that you can't get with just decoration, you can't get with just a spoken word,
because music has a wider range of expression.
Q. Let's talk about "Sleigh Ride" in
particular. When was "Sleigh Ride" composed and was it composed with the idea of
Christmas in mind?
A. "Sleigh Ride" was one of the first things I wrote
when I got out of the Army and moved up here to Wood bury, Connecticut. Actually, I first
came here in 1946; you may remember there was a housing shortage then, and my
mother-in-law was living up here, had a cottage that was vacant, so since we had no other
place to go, we packed our 14-month old daughter, plus the upright piano, and came on up
here to Wood bury, and during that first summer that we were here, I started "Fiddle
Faddle", I didn't finish that until the following winter, and "Sleigh Ride"
and "Serenata". And "Sleigh Ride", I remember, was just an idea
because, it was just a pictorial thing, it wasn't necessarily Christmas music, and it was
written during the heat wave. As a matter of fact, the strange thing is that it seems that
all the winter or Christmas things I've done have been in heat waves, it was true of the
Christmas Festival because you see in this case it was done for recording and Christmas
music is recorded, at the latest, in July, because the records must be all processed and
everything must be done and reshipped to the distributors by October 1st; a lot of people
don't realize this, they seem to think along comes November and they say well, I have a
little piece, a Christmas thing, I think it would be a good idea if they put it out this
year, and it's too late. So, "Sleigh Ride" was not written particularly for the
following Christmas, it was just another piece of music that I wrote; at the same time, I
did "Fiddle Faddle" and "Serenata", I remember working on
"Serenata" that same summer.
Q. You certainly captured the feeling of a sleigh ride in
A. Well, the point of a number like "Sleigh Ride", that
you could call a descriptive piece, or pictorial, is that you have to start with the idea
of the rhythm and whatever it is first, in this case it's the rhythm of the sleigh bells,
and these sleigh bells go chink, chink, chink, that's the regular rhythm of sleigh bells,
so having done that, it's necessary to build the music around that rhythm and, of course,
sleigh bells are repetitious, just bump, bump, bump and having done that, it was very
natural them to write a melody that was not only in the same rhythm, but it had the same
repeated notes, like - - -, and the middle section goes they're repeated notes again, you
see. And, of course, the entire rhythm of the thing must, you have to go chink, chink,
chink that must keep up all the way through.
Q. Mitchell Parrish wrote the lyrics probably five years
after the "Sleigh Ride" was originally introduced; did you work with him at all
on that, did you have any ideas --
A. Oh yes, I always work with Mitchell Parrish, he has written
lyrics to six or seven of the things that I've done, and when there was so many demands
for say choral editions and things like that of "Sleigh Ride" after it had
become popular, then we decided to get together and write a lyric to it. Mitchell Parrish
is unusually good at this because he has the ability, he's written many lyrics to
instrumental numbers, and this is quite a knack because you see when you write a song, the
lyric writer has free rein; he's usually the one who contributes the title and other
things. But here, he was stuck with the title, he had the title already, and that was not
only the' subject, but he had to get the word "Sleigh Ride" in somewhere, he had
to fit that word in and he had to build the lyrics around it. And this takes a very
skilled writer, a very skilled lyricist; he has to know lyric poetry and, of course, he is
a student of lyric poetry, he can quote Keats and Shelley, he knows them all. I asked him
once if he didn't have a rhyming dictionary, he said, Oh no, I know all the rhymes. This
is all rather interesting, it's all a part of his technique and part of his background. At
the same time when we're working, I would suggest a couple, something with a certain
rhyme, but he said I don't want to do that because so and so in his song, he used that
rhyme, and that particular thing, he knows all these other lyrics so he tries to avoid
what other people have done and get something that is new. So, that is how the lyric to
"Sleigh Ride" came to be written.
Q. When you wrote "The Christmas Festival",
what were you trying to achieve?
A. Well, I was trying to write a Christmas festival. You see,
there are all types of things that have been written for various occasions and in this
particular case I was working at the time for the Boston Pops, I was the arranger and
orchestrator for them for years, and they wanted to record a special concert number, using
Christmas songs, carols and other Christmas music, for records, so they asked, Arthur
Feidler asked me to do a concert overture, and this is how it came about. I selected the
ones that were the most popular and best known, and then I took them and tried to give
instrumental treatment to them; in other words, it's not a medley, that isn't what we
wanted to do here, certainly what I didn't want to do. I rather took the themes and built
you might say a concert overture, around the Christmas songs. They're not just carols
because in this we end with "Jingle Bells", that is, of course, a secular song,
it's not a carol, but it's associated so much with the gaiety and spirit of Christmas that
you certainly couldn't leave it out.
Q. You were telling me earlier that the days of 78 rpm
records presented a problem to you as far as composing was concerned.
A. That's right, when this was done, I think it was in 1950 or
1951, they still had single records as the main part of the market; LP's were just about
coming in. so while it was played all the way through, that is, when it was recorded, for
the LP, we also had to make a split after four minutes - the Christmas Festival runs about
8 minutes so that meant that when I wrote it I had to make a place in the middle where you
could stop and this is a problem I had with many other things I did for the Boston Pops
such as the musical comedy selections, where they ran 7 or 8 minutes and had to go on two
sides of a record, it was necessary to write so there was a spot in the middle where you
could make a logical break, and at the same time also pick up again for the other side,
and it had to be as satisfactory as it could for that purpose; but, at the same time, it
had to be done so it wasn't noticeable when you played the whole thing all the way
through. In other words, you couldn't have the seams showing. This was done in the
Christmas Festival and if I may brag a bit, I defy anybody to find out the exact spot
where that occurred because, of course, we don't play it stopping any more, it's played
all the way through be cause now with LP records we don't have to stop every three or four
Q. Let's discuss some of these other suites.
A. Well, in addition to the Christmas Festival which is a big
concert overture, I had the idea of making more intimate treatment of other Christmas
carols; at the same time, however, I didn't just want to make medleys of them, that's the
usual thing. In treating them instrumentally, I thought I'd try to get something that
would give a little more scope and be a little different. So, after thinking it over, I
decided that I would make a suite of carols. Except that the one suite turned out to be
three suites because of the fact that carols have a great deal of variety and it seemed
that one particular carol would sound best with string orchestra, and another one would
sound much better with a brass choir, and another would call for the color that you get
from woodwinds; so I finally finished by writing three suites of carols, three different
ones -- one is a strong orchestra, one for brass choir, and one for woodwind ensemble, and
I took about 18 or 19 of these carols and divided them up and made them into the three
suites and recorded.
Q. It's refreshing to hear some of this Christmas music
that we don't hear.
A. Well, in addition, I -have also not only taken the best known,
I have also taken some of the lesser known ones; although I find year after year that many
of the carols that are not, or were not, so well known, are now being played because,
particularly with records -- all the recordings that are made and all the music that's
played on radio --there is a great demand for greater variety of music, and so as a result
we are hearing a lot of music that is not just the most popular or the best known.
Q. What are some of your favorite Christmas carols, and
A. Well, I don't have any favorites of anything, I just -- you
know, a lot of people ask that, those who are not musicians. When you're in the profession
you are interested in music and you're interested in All types of music and if you're not
it's a good idea not to get into music professionally, because you are going to be very
narrow in the first place in whatever you do, and in the second place you're going to be
very unhappy, because you have to learn to like all kinds of music and even though it may
not appeal to you particularly for personal reasons, you still must accept it if other
people say it is good music. I remember one thing in connection with this that Arthur
Fiedler said at a Pops concert; he came back stage after he had played a certain number
and he said, you know, I never liked that type of music. And I was rather surprised to
hear him say that; not because he had played it, something that he didn't like, but that
he didn't like it, because I rather liked it, I thought it was good. I was not surprised,
as I said, that he played it, because he is a professional musician and he wouldn't
presume, just because he didn't care for something, to refuse to perform it for the
audience, and at the same time he gave just as good a performance to that piece of music
he did not like as he would to anything that he really liked. So, this is the attitude you
have to have when you are a professional musician, and that applies, of course, to
Christmas music as well. I like all of them; I like all of the things in there. You tend,
of course, to prefer music that isn't played quite so much. For that reason, I think I
like certain of the carols that are in there, the less known, I really enjoy hearing those
more than I would something like "Oh Come All Ye Faithful", that's heard all the
Q. Let's talk a couple of minutes about your own
impressions of Christmas -- favorite memories, do you have any particular memories of
A. Well, of course, you're talking about a personal thing here
and everyone has his own personal memories. As far as my personal memories go, I think,
they're probably, in general, the same as anyone else. You think of when you were a boy;
especially as you get older. And they also seem to evolve around food because, you see, my
parents were born in Sweden, so at Christmas time we would have the traditional Swedish
foods on Christmas Eve. As matter of fact in Sweden they give out gifts on Christmas Eve
and not on Christmas morning; so, for a good many years we had our Santa Claus, you might
say, on Christmas Eve. And then, of course, for dinner we would have the Hoghead's cheese
and the pickled herring, and the pickled beets and various kinds of sausage and other
things you usually find on a smorgasbord. Then, of course, the rice pudding for dessert,
and in the rice pudding they always put an almond and whoever gets the almond, you see, is
supposed to have good luck during the next year; of course, it always happens that the
youngest child happens to get the almond, they'd arrange it that way. Then on early
Christmas morning about 5 o'clock, everyone gets up and goes to church -- the early
morning Christmas service -- those are the things I remember, everyone has different
Q. Where did you spend your boyhood?
A. I was born and brought up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and I
went to school on one street, Broadway in Cambridge, from the Longfellow Primary School,
to Harvard Grammar School, to Cambridge High and Latin School, and then I just walked a
couple blocks farther down Broadway to Harvard College -the Harvard Yard was on one side
and the graduate school was on the other side, the law school. I went, for the most part,
to the music building, to Pane Hall. If I had walked a few steps longer, farther down,
I've often thought I might have been a lawyer, or I would have been because the Harvard
Law School is just beyond there. As it happened, I stopped short and went to Pane Hall
where I took the regular course -_ I majored in music.
Q. I want to thank you so much for sharing your Christmas
Eve with us, so to speak, and I want to wish you and yours the merriest of Christmases and
a very Happy New Year.
A. Thank you so very much, and I want to also wish you a Merry
Christmas and the same to all of my neighbors here in the State of Connecticut.