Sleigh Ride

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This article is about the light orchestral piece. For the song by Alexander O'Neal, see My Gift to You (Alexander O'Neal album).
"A Brush for the Lead", lithograph by Currier and Ives, 1867. In the song, the lyrics compare a sleigh ride to a "picture print by Currier and Ives".

"Sleigh Ride" is a popular light orchestral piece composed by Leroy Anderson. The composer had the original idea for the piece during a heat wave in July 1946; he finished the work in February 1948. Though it was originally an instrumental piece, lyrics, about a person who would like to ride in a sleigh on a winter's day with another person, were written by Mitchell Parish in 1950. The orchestral version was first recorded in 1949 by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra. The song was a hit record on RCA Victor Red Seal 49-0515 (45 rpm) / 10-1484 (78 rpm), and has become the equivalent of a signature song for the orchestra. The 45 rpm version was originally issued on red vinyl. The Pops has also recorded the song with John Williams, their conductor from 1979 to 1995, and Keith Lockhart, their current conductor. Over the years, the song has become a Christmas standard.


Leroy Anderson recorded his own version of "Sleigh Ride" in 1950 on Decca 9-16000 (45 rpm) / 16000 (78 rpm). This recording hit the Cashbox magazine best sellers chart when re-released in 1952.

Several versions of the song include the sound of a clopping sound, and a whip, in order to give the feeling of the movement of the sleigh ride.. Some versions also feature the sound of a whinnying horse, heard especially in the Coda of the song. In the Leroy Anderson version, a musical instrument imitating the sound of a horse whinnying, while in the Ronnettes version, the whinnying of the horse is heard in the introduction as well as in the Coda sections of the song.

Although "Sleigh Ride" is often associated with Christmas, and often appears on Christmas compilation albums, the song's lyrics never specifically mention any holiday or religion (apart from certain recordings, such as those by the Carpenters, Walter Schumann and Air Supply, that substitute "Christmas party" for "birthday party" in the song's bridge). In fact, the mention of "pumpkin pie" in the last verse might suggest an association with Thanksgiving rather than Christmas.

According to the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers [ASCAP] review of Christmas music, "Sleigh Ride" consistently ranks in the top 10 list of most performed songs written by ASCAP members during the Christmas season worldwide.[1]

ASCAP named "Sleigh Ride" the most popular piece of Christmas music in the USA for the four consecutive years 2009 through 2012, based on performance data tracked by airplay monitoring service, Mediaguide, from over 2,500 radio stations nationwide. To this day, Leroy Anderson's recording remains the most popular instrumental version, while Johnny Mathis' recording has become the most popular vocal version.[2]

According to author Steve Metcalf, in his book, Leroy Anderson: A Bio-Bibliography [Praeger 2004], "'Sleigh Ride' ... has been performed and recorded by a wider array of musical artists than any other piece in the history of Western music."

The middle section, or bridge, utilizes an unusual, unprepared modulation to III, then to II, of the tonic key. The difficulty of singing this has caused several recordings to alter the chord changes or omit the section altogether, as in the Ronettes' version.

Notable recordings[edit]


  • Currier & Ives was a popular printing company in the 19th century. The company closed in 1907, 43 years before the song's lyrics were written.
  • The whip cracks are made by a percussionist, preferably with a slapstick, occasionally with rimshots.

Classical "Sleigh Ride" pieces[edit]

"Die Schlittenfahrt (Sleigh Ride)" is also the popular name given to one of the Three German Dances composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The composition is sometimes mistakenly attributed to Wolfgang's father, Leopold Mozart (whose own Divertimento in F major is popularly known as "Musical Sleigh Ride").

The "Winter Night" segment of Frederick Delius' Three Small Tonepoems is also commonly known as "Sleigh Ride".

The "Troika" movement from Lieutenant Kijé by Sergei Prokofiev is also a musical sleigh ride, referring to a three-horse team drawing a carriage (troika means "group of three").


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