Have a Leroy Anderson Christmas
Everyone has a favorite part of the Christmas season. For some, it’s canvassing the neighborhood, saying “Ooh,” and “Ahh,” at Christmas lights. For my grandmother, it’s “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” on TV. But to me, the best part of the season is the music.
Although I’m not a music buff, I like listening to music (and whistling along). I’m an especial fan of instrumental music. I played trumpet in the Pinconning High School Symphonic Band, and played for two years in the “Pride of the North” marching band and concert band at Northern Michigan University.
I thoroughly enjoyed participating in my high school and collegiate music programs, and I look back on my band years fondly, especially during Christmastime, which was my favorite time of year to be a band member. We spent weeks preparing for holiday concerts, and let me tell you, being part of an ensemble performing traditional holiday tunes is an entirely different experience than listening to the Top 40’s newest wonder belt them out on the radio.
Both the Pinny band and the Pride had unofficial holiday tunes. Pinny’s was “A Christmas Festival” by Leroy Anderson. This song is a Pinconning band tradition. After I graduated, I spent a lot of time (and money) before I found a version recorded on CD similar to what we played every year. My mother played flute when she was in school, and when she and I were listening to the song last year on Christmas Eve, she confessed she can still hum along to the flutes’ part. I’m not surprised — I can whistle along with the trumpets’ part as well.
At Northern, the band favorite was “Sleigh Ride,” also arranged by Leroy Anderson. We played it at the holiday concert, and also at the winter commencement ceremony, where we provided background music as the crowd filed in and got settled around the Superior Dome. What I love about this version of the song is the jazzy breakdown in the middle, where (if you listen closely) you can hear the bass line playing the tune of “Let’s Go Blue,” from the University of Michigan. It’s a fun mix of the traditional and the hip, and reminds me of the big band music made famous by Glen Miller.
Although I have yet to hear “A Christmas Festival” on the radio, I hear “Sleigh Ride” all the time, and each time it comes on, I have to make an effort to stop smiling so I can whistle along. (It’s nigh impossible to whistle while you’re smiling.)
These songs remind me how much I enjoy this time of year; and especially, they remind me how much I enjoyed holiday concerts. To sit onstage with my trumpet in hand, surrounded on all sides by people intent on making the music of Christmas come alive and brightening the season for everyone in the audience... that was a great feeling. That was fellowship and goodwill, pure and simple.
And at heart, isn’t that what Christmas is all about?