Whip It Good.
19 Dec 2011
Inside the Classics

This evening, the orchestra wraps up what has felt like about a year’s worth of Christmas concerts, and thanks to this week’s split schedule, I actually played my last Sleigh Ride earlier this afternoon, and will be relaxing with a book and a beverage while some of my colleagues play the last actual show of the month tonight.

Speaking of Sleigh Ride, that omnipresent Leroy Anderson classic seems to show up on nearly every holiday program we play, regardless of who put the program together or what the ostensible theme of the concert is. Other songs of the season might have their haters, but it seems like pretty much everyone loves Sleigh Ride. And why not? It has a catchy tune, jingle bells, a big brass windup, whinnying horses, and the crack of a whip!

Or, actually, generally not the crack of a whip. The whip cracks that dot the landscape of Sleigh Ride are pretty much always played by a percussionist holding a slap stick, two flat pieces of wood hinged together at one end that create a gunshot/whip crack sound when slapped together. This is partly because a slap stick is way easier to time accurately than a whip, and also because musicians who sit in front of percussion sections stubbornly refuse to allow occasional whip injuries to be added to the list of acceptable workplace risks.

That having been said, our principal percussionist, Brian Mount, loves a challenge, and he’s also probably bored to tears with Sleigh Ride at this stage of his career, so this month, he’s been wandering around Orchestra Hall with a 5-foot bullwhip, and beginning with our Time for Three concert a couple of weeks back, he’s been doing his dead level best to deploy it in performance. I’ll be honest: it wasn’t a high-percentage shot the first couple of times he did it. But the crowds went nuts for the sight of a completely deadpan, bespectacled musician sending a 5-foot whip shrieking across the stage, and in many cases, a flubbed crack that drew laughter would lead directly to a mighty ovation when he hit the next one perfectly.

Brian is also a natural-born ham, and like most orchestra musicians, he tends to view the last concert before a vacation week as an excuse to take a few risks in the service of amusing his colleagues. So this afternoon, as we wrapped up our final Scandinavian Christmas concert with yet another Sleigh Ride, Brian emerged from the back of the percussion section carrying his whip, walked straight up to the podium while we played the introduction, removed his jacket and tie, stretched a few times, and then treated the audience to a full view of his skills…

Okay, he did flub one later on. But by this time, the audience was in his back pocket. He sat down on the edge of the podium as if sulking, drawing more laughter, then finished off the piece with a flourish.

Well played, Mount. (And my thanks to harpist Ann Benjamin for shooting the footage while hiding behind her instrument!) Maybe next year we can combine this with the Santa Lucia procession and snap a few candles off heads…

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