One unexpected outcome resulting from our self-isolation these past months, is that while looking through some boxes at home, I found a “treasure chest” Honestly! Let’s open it together and see what’s inside… And I’ll tell you what: Watch all the way through and you can have some of the treasure we find 🙂
Although audiences seem to love it, many performers question why I like to conduct Leroy Anderson’s holiday piece “Sleigh Ride” so darn quickly.
Audiences love it.
Well, actually, there’s more to it than that.
Usually, when I get to select my own holiday music programs, I often use Sleigh Ride as an encore piece. After all, we all want our audiences to leave a concert full of upbeat energy, wanting more, talking to each other about the wonderful time they just had, and telling others to attend next time.
But I’ve also done my research.
I have yet to meet a performer in an ensemble I work with who has actually been on a horse-drawn sleigh ride. I haven’t, either. Horses, yes. Horse-drawn carriages in both cities and the countryside, yes. But not in a sleigh. On snow.
Turns out Leroy Anderson never rode on a horse-drawn sleigh, either.
So, basically, very few performers actually know what it’s like and at what speed these sleighs travel.
The closest musical tribute to a horse-drawn sleigh is actually the song One Horse Open Sleigh by James Pierpont for his brother’s Thanksgiving church service. The song never really became popular until 1890, when the teenagers of the time were looking for more sleigh songs (the equivalent of the 20th century’s fast car/ pretty girl sort of pop song) for their Christmas parties. By that time Pierpont’s publishers had changed the name to Jingle Bells.
Now, most of us know the first couple of verses of the song, but we don’t know the remaining three verses. The last verse includes the lines:
Just get a bobtailed bay Two-forty as his speed Hitch him to an open sleigh And crack! you’ll take the lead.
That line “Two-forty as his speed” indicates that the horse is covering one mile in two minutes and forty seconds. Converting that into miles per hour, we get 22.5mph, a “horse speed” of 0.595.
(By the way, Anderson wrote Sleigh Ride as an instrumental in 1948. Mitchell Parish added his own lyrics to the tune a couple of years later, by which time horse-drawn sleighs were no longer in common use.)
According to Goose Wing Ranch, horses have four “gaits” or types of speed – I’m sure they are all familiar terms: walk, trot, canter, and gallop.
A horse’s walk averages 4mph*
Trots average about 8mph
Canters about 14mph, and
Gallops average 28mph
(Race horses go much faster)
(*a human’s average walking speed is 3.27 mph.)
Clearly, then, Pierpont refers to his horse-drawn sleigh at a canter.
Next, I found various ways to convert a horse’s speed into beats per minute, but eventually settled on Dr. Lesley Young’s “Ask the Experts” Q&A on Equinity Intelligent Training for guidance.
Now, as we all know, music – being the language of emotions – is very much dependent on “tempo”, the Italian term for speed. As a general universal rule, musicians use “beats per minute” as a standard measure for speed (Yes, this stems from heartbeats per minute. It’s why the speed of music can affect us physically as well, when we let it). So, how many “beats per minute” does Dr. Young expect to see at a canter?
Gallop: 185 – 240 bpm
Canter: 120 – 185 bpm
Trot: 70 – 120 bpm
Walk: 50 – 70 bpm
So… if we are to gain the fullest benefits of Anderson’s Sleigh Ride, shouldn’t we try to match the real-life experience of a horse-drawn sleigh with the effect that music has on us?
The publisher’s (not the composer’s) recommended tempo of 108 beats per minute is way too leisurely a pace for any poor horse to cope with while pulling a sleigh. Indeed, they are likely to puff-out and come to a grinding halt if we limit them to trotting!
Therefore, I am quite happy squeezing as much juice out of live music by connecting it to real life through its true pace. That means, for Sleigh Ride, at least, ignoring performers’ comfort zones and traditional expectations, and taking it at a more realistic pace of 120-185 bpm.
The last thing that I want to mention about confidence is that, as it spreads, it actually gives you the courage to grow.
Growing is such an important element of human existence. We want to grow, we want to improve. We want to get better at what we do. If we stay stagnant, life just falls apart, and we end up in our own little cocoons or bubbles, doing our own things. And what a waste of life that is; what a waste of experiences of heart, mind and emotion. So take the courage to grow, and learn and experience new things, even if you stay within your established frame of reference. For example, if you’re a music performer, you can continue playing your own instrument of choice or singing in your own voice part or style. But even within that, there are still so many new things out there that you can experience that can help you grow, not just as a musician or a performer, but as a person.
And if you’re an audience member, if you enjoy attending live concerts, it’s the same thing. You can stay within the genre that you like and continue attending shows of concert band, opera, orchestral repertoire, ballet, pop groups, rock groups, or even jazz or salsa. That’s terrific, but there are still always new things that you can do, too.
Here in Tampa Bay, we have a radio station called New Country. When I tuned in I always thought they were saying, “this is your new country music radio station,” but they don’t actually mean that the station is new. The genre of music the station plays is New Country because it’s still country, but it’s not traditional. It’s considered “New” because there is a contemporary twist to it. I’m not really into it personally, but that’s what I learned. I came across this because I like to experience new things. I had the courage to see what’s out there and what other people are listening to, and to grow enough to experience it myself.
Some of it I like, and some of it I don’t, and that’s okay.
Every day a little better… closer… wiser
There are three aspects I see when it comes to growing as a person, or having the “courage to grow”; the first thing is to get a little better every day. Whatever you have the courage to do, make sure you do it a little bit better every single day. This applies whether you are playing an instrument or singing, whether exploring music online or attending a musical event in person, talking to others, or sharing your unique experiences. Just take a few seconds every single day, and make your practice, attendance, or personal interactions a little bit better than they were before.
Every day you want to move a little bit closer to being the best version of you that you can be, get a little bit closer to growing, to becoming more than you are now. I hope you’re feeling inspired and motivated, because this is exciting. This is what music does for us. It gives us the opportunity to grow. It gives us the confidence that we need in life and that we can help spread. It gives us the courage to do and to share things. So you want to move a little bit closer to the best person you can be, every single day.
And then also every single day, all this will make you a little bit wiser. You’ll be able to make better decisions about life, the universe and everything based on the fact that you took the courage to do things, share things, and actually grow. This is the fundamental building block and the principles on which the Dunedin Music Society is built. This is why I share these things with you. It’s because there is so much more to music than just the music itself.
This was the last part of a four-part series, including
Courage isn’t needed merely to do things like turn up to a concert, go to a rehearsal, or pick up an instrument and learn your craft; it’s also necessary for actually sharing those things with others as well. There are three reasons why courage is necessary for sharing, the first being that our experiences are unique. Nobody else has the same experiences that we do. We might also need courage to share because we’re afraid of ridicule, or because what we are experiencing is just so new.
Our experiences are unique
Everyone has a different experience when participating in live music. For example, if you’re a listener and you’re creating a story in your head about the music, your story may be completely different than the story in my head, which may also be completely different to the story the composer wrote the music about. Music is a fascinating thing, because the story just helps us deal with emotions. And when you leave that musical environment, whether it be the concert hall where you heard the performance or the rehearsal in which you played it, to just then quash that experience is terrible. It is such a waste. So having the courage to share that you experienced with somebody else, and let them listen and enjoy it as well, does help you grow as a person. In the live music environment, sharing what’s going on enhances all of our experiences because they’re truly unique. Trying to persuade someone else to have the same experience as you is silly as well.
Frightened of ridicule
Putting yourself out there is also where courage comes from, because we as humans are frightened of ridicule. We’re frightened of people saying, “oh, that was silly.” We’re frightened of being dismissed. And it’s real. It genuinely happens all the time. Sharing what we feel puts us in a place of vulnerability where we may get ridiculed, and we’d all usually rather not do that. So I say, step up and get the courage to share!
Everything was once new
Everything that you’ve experienced in life, at one point was brand new. The music had never been heard before. What we now consider either familiar or mainstream music, even classical music, was once brand new and may not have been liked at the time of its premiere. Think of Stravinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring’; this is a very famous story. It’s now a fabulous piece of repertoire that most orchestras around the world play. It might be perceived as a little weird for people with extremely conservative musical tastes, but it’s still fun and exciting. There’s a lot people can experience with this piece, and I do recommend you try and experience it when you can. However, in 1913, when that piece premiered in Paris, there was literally a riot in the opera house. Although the piece is mostly played by orchestras now, it was being presented as a ballet on stage in Paris, and the audience members were actually throwing chairs at each other because they hated it so much! Now it’s part of the standard repertoire, although it was new at that time.
The courage to share our unique experiences with other people does put us out there and make us vulnerable. That’s the truth; and we are frightened of being made fun of, but ridicule and remarks only demonstrate ignorance and lack of compassion. So have the courage to share your unique experiences with other people, because if it is or once was new for you, it may be new for them, too. Then again, it may not be new for them, but you won’t know unless you open up and share.
Next week is last part of this series: “The courage to grow”
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