Sleigh Ride: A Deep-Rooted Tradition


Anavi Prakash, Reporter

Every year the winter Music Department concert showcases a wide variety of talents from many students, always ending with a bang: Sleigh Ride, a tradition many Bay students can’t imagine their year without. 

The song was composed by Leroy Anderson from 1946-1948, the original idea coming to him in the midst of a summer heatwave. The winter classic wasn’t supposed to be associated with Christmas time and all the festivities going around, yet here we are. 

In Whitefish Bay, Sleigh Ride is a staple for every student who goes through high school. For junior Madeline LaFrombois, “Performing Sleigh Ride has always marked the start of the holidays for both me and my family. It has been a part of my family’s traditions since when my brother was in band. Not being able to play it this year has made the holiday season feel less special than it used to be.” Senior Erika Hammerer, seconds that thought, as “Playing Sleigh Ride as a band has always created a sense of community across the program. Without playing it all together in a concert setting this year, the holiday season feels incomplete.” Although there was no winter Music Department concert, Sleigh Ride will (hopefully) go on. Band director Tom Gard shares the piece’s sentiment, saying “I feel like we’ve been robbed of opportunities and time together. The spirit of Sleigh Ride is told through the song, but also through the players and audience. I believe playing it will help restore our identity this year.”

Mr. Gard, who isn’t a fan of repeating literature every year, usually “change[s] the channel when Sleigh Ride comes on the radio. I don’t want it to become oversaturated.” However, he does recognize the sense of tradition it brings to students at Bay, because “Traditions at schools didn’t really mean that much. But here there’s an energy behind it which is why I would never dabble with the idea of not doing it.” He continues to say every year “depends on who’s pushing the sleigh, who’s in the sleigh. It’s when [several different] personalities come into play.”

Band members all have had to grapple with their own want to play Sleigh Ride. Sophomore Ryan Deam felt that “…even though I’ve only played it once, the upperclassmen were always hyping it up and so when we first played it[,] the experience was super cool. It was great to see everyone playing and watching too[,] excited to hear the band play it that one time, and there was way more snow than I expected.” He ended with optimism for this year, despite the unprecedented times because “Even though it would be awesome to play it in an actual concert this year, I think our band is talented enough to pull it off in any way, even [if] that opportunity is virtual like how we are all planning at the moment.” The online concert would consist of songs mixed through online tools all music classes have been using this year. In addition, for many, the lack of community in the band was the hardest to deal with. Junior Nason Lancina emphasized “I think Sleigh Ride is important because it’s the one piece that everyone learns. No matter what year you are or what your skill level is, everyone knows it…It’s frustrating…because the previous two years I’ve gotten to see the whole school come together and truly focus on and have fun with the band.”   

Seniors felt this especially, as they get to partake not only in the tradition of wearing Santa hats, but some also get to ride in the sleigh. Senior Jayson Goldbaum has fond memories of the song ever since his elementary school days when he was always “…waiting for the horse whinny…Sleigh Ride is just a classic and I’m really disappointed that we might not get to play it [in a normal setting] this year.” Senior Lily Fay has a similar experience, hearing “… the high school play sleigh ride from 6th grade to 8th grade and I was dying to play it. I’m one of those people who love tradition when it’s fun! Something…as long-running as Sleigh Ride got me really excited.” Once she got to high school and started playing it herself, the song wasn’t the only aspect she loved. Even though “Sleigh Ride is a fun song to play…one of my favorite parts is always the audience reaction and involvement in it,” referring to the cheers when snow is dumped on the band members throughout the song. Kaitlyn Crosby, who graduated last year, was one of the snow dumpers throughout her years in high school and the way she sees it is “You can’t listen to Sleigh Ride unless there is snow falling because the anticipation builds up and then finally the snow starts to fall.” 

Fay also brought in an interesting perspective because she also helped set up the concert, behind the scenes, including the snow. Especially this year, with the pandemic, teaching younger students how to do everything won’t happen in the same way she learned. Expressing concern about that, Fay explains how she’s  “…also missing the opportunity to teach. There are almost always kids from stage crew in the band and we are in charge of organizing the transitions between music acts and most importantly: the snowfall during Sleigh Ride and the clean up of the snow after it. I am not able to teach the younger stage crew kids in band how to do these things in the most efficient way possible. I was taught them over time, but because of last year and this year[,] next year’s stage crew isn’t getting as much guidance as I got.” 

Audience members of the fine arts assembly and the concert itself feel the lack of everything–from the work behind the scenes to the actual performances. Senior Katie Plum enjoyed Sleigh Ride because listening to it “….made everything feel festive and it sort of brought the school together….it’s something that’s really unique to Bay.” Sophomore Emma Koehler shared the same feelings, especially as a freshman last year, because she “…loved seeing how excited everyone was to hear it.” The same sentiment is heard across grades, as junior Shashank Joshi said “I have enjoyed the fine art assembly as a freshman and sophomore, and it was something I used to wait all year for this time of the season.” 

Even alumni feel it, like recent graduate Allison Balliet, who’s senior year was when the last ‘normal’ Sleigh Ride was played, looked back on her time playing the classic and reflected “Sleigh Ride created a sense of tradition because the song has stayed with the band despite director changes. As a freshman, it’s almost like a rite of passage and it feels like after you get to play Sleigh Ride you become a part of something that will last through high school. It was also kind of comforting knowing that we would be playing this one song that everyone loved and was excited about when the music was brought out. The song also seemed to bring the whole school together and make people excited about the arts concert and not just because we would get out of class. I actually do miss the song and every time I hear it during the holiday season I reminisce on the good times I had in band playing Sleigh Ride. This year being the first year in four years that I didn’t play Sleigh Ride just didn’t feel right.” It’s fair to say the song is very impactful on everyone. Rounding it off in a sad, yet simple way, Fay holds the same meaning with the song, because her “…first Sleigh Ride made me really feel like I was a high schooler, my last Sleigh Ride was supposed to make me feel like a real senior and someone who is actually going to college. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to have the ladder.”

In essence, Sleigh Ride has had an impact on every student who has either played or heard it in their high school years. From marking the beginning of the holiday season to symbolizing the strong tradition Bay holds, to signifying the beginning and ending of a student’s high school years, the wintery classic is held close to many hearts. Although this year there won’t be a ‘normal’ concert, and the odds of snow are low, hopefully when Sleigh Ride is played, everyone feels some of the same sentiment they have in the years prior. It truly is a deep-rooted tradition here at Bay, and will surely continue to be so for many years to come. 



Sleigh Ride – Leroy Anderson Foundation
Christmas and Christmas Music – an interview with Leroy Anderson