Leroy Anderson (1908-1975) went to Harvard, where he studied composition with Walter Piston. After being repeatedly turned down for a fellowship to study in Paris with Nadia Boulanger, he began to pursue a doctoral degree in German and Scandinavian languages at Harvard while also directing the Harvard band, but he soon dropped these pursuits to become a translator for the army during World War II.

Meanwhile, in 1936 he arranged a medley of Harvard songs for the Boston Pops, and in 1938 Fiedler’s Pops played and recorded an original composition of his, Jazz Pizzicato. Anderson went on to write dozens of short novelty pieces for the Boston Pops, many of which are masterpieces of the genre. Sleigh Ride, one of the most popular, has been recorded by hundreds of musicians, ranging from Ella Fitzgerald to TLC to Charlotte Church to Kenny G.

I’ve played Sleigh Ride many times over the years, but one performance was particularly memorable: the Yale Precision Marching Band’s halftime show in November 1996, at the annual Yale-Harvard football game. Our shows involved neither marching nor precision; we would chaotically run from one formation to the next, spelling out words on the field and playing short musical excerpts as the announcer read a witty script which connected our antics to current events or school rivalries.

But that day, we suspected that the stadium’s public address system might not work, so we took preemptive action and created a show in which nothing made much sense even with the announcer’s script. The climax of this "surreal" show involved a fifty-foot long cardboard shark coming onto the field while we played — yes — Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride. The traditional trumpet horse-neigh at the end of the piece was replaced by a duck call.

Perhaps the music actually was a subtle stab at Harvard: we all hate playing Sleigh Ride; Sleigh Ride was written by Leroy Anderson; Leroy Anderson went to Harvard; therefore Harvard sucks. Or even subtler: Leroy Anderson went to Harvard; Leroy Anderson’s estate chose to donate all of his papers and manuscripts to the Yale Music Library rather than to Harvard; therefore Harvard sucks. But whatever the reasoning, if indeed there was any, it was surely beyond the grasp of the drunken fans, or, indeed, of many of the drunken band members. Yet the show was somehow the most memorable the band had done in years, and it remains one of the few I still remember.

Leroy Anderson Went to Harvard was written for the So Percussion Group.