Leroy Anderson wrote "Sandpaper Ballet" during 5 days before recording the composition on June 25, 1954. Percussionists play sandpaper blocks in three grades - coarse, medium and fine - to imitate the sound of old Vaudeville soft-shoe dance.. It has been used by dancers in national competitions and has also inspired the 1999 ballet (of the same title) by Mark Morris and the San Francisco Ballet. The piece has brought out the sense of humor of the Boston Pops when, before performing the composition, three percussionists would come up front and "tune" their sandpaper. It is interesting to note that, as biographer George Wright Briggs points out, Anderson "was an excellent dancer himself, unexpectedly so, in view of his Swedish reserve."
"Many years ago while the "soft shoe dance" was still popular in vaudeville, sometimes dancers would sprinkle sand on the stage to create a crackling sound while performing. The drummers imitated this sound, in attaching sandpaper on wooden blocks which they rubbed rhythmically against each other. This was the "background" for my little piece 'Sandpaper Ballet'. The sandpaper-covered blocks are in this case imitated by two drummers. They use sandpaper in three different strengths, coarse, medium and fine, to create different effects. The music is my personal version of the old "soft shoe dance".
- Leroy Anderson
1. Decca Records recording session, Manhattan Center, New York, NY; Leroy Anderson, conductor; June 24, 1954.
Leroy Anderson conducted a studio orchestra in his 1954 Monaural recording of "The Sandpaper Ballet" for Decca Records. 50 musicians, many of whom were the Principals of their respective orchestra sections, came to perform for the recording. They were chosen from the New York Philharmonic, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the NBC Symphony, the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, The Goldman Band and the Beaux Arts Trio.
The studio orchestra included 9 First Violins, 7 Second Violins, 5 Violas, 4 Celli, 3 Basses, 3 Flutes, 2 Oboes, 2 Clarinets, 2 Bassoons, 4 Horns, 3 Trumpets, 3 Trombones, 2 Percussionists (sandpaper) and 1 Pianist.
2. "The Band of the Royal Marines", Lt. Col. F. Vivian Dunn, conductor, [Capitol Records ST 10215]; 33 1/3 LP includes "Sandpaper Ballet" and "Serenata" by Leroy Anderson, and music by Bach, Berlioz, Elgar, and others.
3. "Cambridge High and Latin School Spring Concert: May 1973", Leroy Anderson, conductor [CSRV 2407]; Two 33 1/3 LPs include "Sandpaper Ballet", "Blue Tango", and works by Mozart, Bernstein, Haydn, Rossini, Tchaikovsky, Vivaldi and Borodin.
Youngest ballet company dancing to "Sandpaper Ballet" by Leroy Anderson.
Music by Leroy Anderson
Choreography by Mark Morris
Written for 25 dancers, the "Sandpaper Ballet" is set to Leroy Anderson's music. The ballet received its premiere with the San Francisco Ballet company on April 27, 1999. The enduring work has been praised for its wit, humor, and dazzlingly inventive movement.
The 25-minute ballet features 11 compositions by Leroy Anderson: "Sleigh Ride (Overture)," "The Typewriter," "Trumpeter's Lullaby," "Saraband," "Balladette," "Jazz Pizzicato," "Jazz Legato," "Fiddle Faddle," "The Girl in Satin," "Song of the Bells," "The Syncopated Clock".
One of the few remaining ballet companies employing a large, full-time orchestra, the San Francisco Ballet also performed "Sandpaper Ballet" in 2001 in Barcelona, Spain and in August 2010 at Tivoli Koncertsal in Copenhagen, Denmark.
The San Francisco Ballet performed "Sandpaper Ballet" at the 3,000-seat War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco, February 11 - 22, 2020 for 7 performances. During Covid-19 the company reprised the 2020 performance in a video that was available for streaming for 3 weeks in 2021,
Other ballet companies that have performed the work include: San Francisco Ballet Company: Orange County (California) Performing Arts Center (2002) City Center of New York (2002) John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (2002), Houston Ballet (2005 and May 2010), San Francisco Ballet (2006), Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre (2013), Indiana University Ballet Theatre (March 2018), Atlanta Ballet (2019).
// The fact that Mark Morris, a musical choreographer with a keen ear, chose to choreograph to Anderson's music is indicative of the composer's talents, charm, and broad appeal. Here we are many decades later and his music is still widely loved, regardless of context."
- Kate McKinney, San Francisco Ballet, February 2020
" 'Sandpaper Ballet,' Mark Morris' beguiling treatment of the incomparable orchestral writing of composer Leroy Anderson, is a favorite of the San Francisco Ballet's archives."
- Joshua Kosman, San Franciso Datebook, January 2021
"The highlight is the revival of Mark Morris' brilliant 'Sandpaper Ballet'. Though it's 'just' a casual divertissement, it's one of the greatest ballets in their repertoire."
- Paul Parish, San Francisco arts critic
"It is a big, celebratory work that humorously plays with rhythm."
- Tina Fehlandt, Pittsburgh Ballet Theater
"I'm very happy that we'll be playing Leroy's wonderful music again. It's a lighthearted ballet that always lifts my spirits."
- Matthew Naughtin, San Francisco Ballet Librarian
"With well-known music by Leroy Anderson, the ballet world's master of step language - Mark Morris - plays musically and humorously with his "Sandpaper Ballet", spiced with a
beautiful, jazzy and nonchalant quality of movement."
- Vibeke Wern, Berlingske Media A/S, København, Danmark
"If you hate ballet, you will love it. If you worship ballet, you will understand it. And if you've never seen a ballet in your entire life, you will convert instantly' -
'Sandpaper Ballet' is the treat we all deserve."
- San Francisco Examiner, April 1999
"'Sandpaper Ballet' seems more than ever one of those dances you wish would never end."
- San Francisco Bee, April 2000
"'Sandpaper Ballet' a hit from 1999. Set to Leroy Anderson's irrepressibly cheerful and fun-filled tunes, 'Sandpaper Ballet' is intelligent, invigorating and sparklingly imaginative, and it makes every member of the corps de ballet look like a soloist. What a gift to the San Francisco Ballet."
Copyrights to the music of Leroy Anderson
are held by Woodbury Music Company LLC.
For information concerning the use
of Leroy Anderson's music,
contact the Leroy Anderson family at: