Home Arts and Leisure The Boston Pops Orchestra Takes a Sleigh Ride

The Boston Pops Orchestra Takes a Sleigh Ride


The much-loved Christmas song Sleigh Ride was written during an August heat wave for the Boston Pops Orchestra. It didn’t even have lyrics until after it hit the pop charts.

Sleigh Ride was the work of Leroy Anderson, a Cambridge, Mass.-born composer who wrote many pieces for the Boston Pops Orchestra. Pops conductor John Williams called him “one of the great American masters of light orchestral music.”

Leroy Anderson

Sleigh Ride FiedlerArthur Fiedler had led the Pops for six years when Anderson came to his attention in 1936.

The young Harvard graduate had intended to teach at a language school in Pennsylvania. At the last minute he changed his mind and decided to direct the Harvard University Band.

Anderson had hesitated because he didn’t see much potential in a music career. Fiedler, though, saw Anderson’s promise, and he asked to see his original compositions.

Anderson went on to win many accolades during his life, including a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and election to the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Harvard named its new band headquarters after him and Cambridge named the corner near his boyhood home Leroy Anderson Square.

Sleigh Ride

Anderson started writing Sleigh Ride in August 1946 and didn’t finish it until February 1948.  He worked hard to create the feeling of traveling in a horse-drawn sleigh through the snow.

Fiedler loved Sleigh Ride. He scheduled a recording session in 1949 as soon as he was sure the final arrangement was complete.  It rose to No. 24 on the Billboard Pop Music chart.

The Pops played Sleigh Ride perfectly, with percussionists producing a whip snap and the clop-clop of horses’ hooves. A trumpet played five bars of a half-valve glissando to produce the whinny at the end. As the piece became a staple of the Pops, a joke developed around the sound effects: musicians would receive carrots rather than roses at the end of the performance.

Leroy Anderson

Leroy Anderson

Only after Sleigh Ride was a hit did Tin Pan Alley songwriter Mitchell Parish write lyrics, beginning with the memorable, “Just hear those sleigh bells jingle-ing Ring ting tingle-ing too.”

The piece has endured, consistently ranking in the top 10 most performed songs written by ASCAP members during the Christmas season worldwide. More than 60 years after it was written, Sleigh Ride was named the most popular piece of Christmas music from 2009-2012. According to Anderson’s biography, the piece has been ‘performed by a wider array of musical artists than any other piece in the history of Western music.’


Among those who recorded the song: the Ray Conniff Singers, the Andrews Sisters, Ella Fitzgerald, The Ronettes, the Ramsey Lewis Trio, Lawrence Welk, the Partridge Family, The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Glen Campbell, Neil Diamond, Garth Brooks, the Squirrel Nut Zippers and REO Speedwagon. Johnny Mathis performed the most popular vocal version.

In 1972, the Boston Pops Orchestra paid tribute to Leroy Anderson in a nationally broadcast concert. He guest conducted one piece during what he called the most important evening of his life.

Leroy Anderson House

Leroy Anderson died in 1975. The National Register of Historic Places lists the Leroy Anderson House in Woodbury, Connecticut, where he and his wife lived for many years.

To hear the Boston Pops version of the song, click here. To read more about Arthur Fiedler, click here.

 *  *   *


The Christmas holiday actually began in ancient Rome — and so did Italian cookies. The New England Historical Society’s new book, 24 Historic Italian Christmas Cookie Recipes, tells you how to make those delicious cookies. It also bring you the history of the Italian immigrants who brought them to New England. Available now on Amazon; just click here.

Image of Leroy Anderson By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36467649. Leroy Anderson House By JERRYE AND ROY KLOTZ, M.D. – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50841523. This story was updated in 2022.


Pauline Theberge December 17, 2013 - 11:43 am

I loved Arthur Fiedler!! I was lucky to see him and the Pops a few times.

Daniel C. Purdy December 17, 2013 - 6:02 pm

He was also the arraigner for the Pops, if I remember right.

Clare Berry-Burrows December 17, 2013 - 9:57 pm

Love the work of Leroy Anderson!

Arthur Fiedler Leads the Boston Pops to Fame and Fortune, Despite the Musicians - New England Historical Society April 30, 2015 - 8:07 am

[…] Globe called Barwicki the prankster who opened an umbrella during Christmas Pops to ward off the fake snow that showered on his head.  That joke became a staple of the holiday […]

In 1963 the Boston Symphony Mourned the Assassination of John F. Kennedy - New England Historical Society November 22, 2015 - 4:26 pm

[…] librarian until his retirement in 2014 — after 61 years with the orchestra. He played viola in the Boston Pops and worked as Arthur Fiedler's personal librarian, assistant and […]

Comments are closed.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest artciles from the New England Historical Society

Thanks for Signing Up!

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join Now and Get The Latest Articles. 

It's Free!

You have Successfully Subscribed!