The conversation usually starts with something like this:
“Do you know THAT song”? Or “Do you know the song that is in that commercial? The really pretty one?”
Yes, I do. The answer, almost always, is Canon in D by Pachelbel. It is such a simple concept for music. 8 notes, or chords, repeated…hence the Canon. (This is not to be mistaken with a military CANNON).
Written around 1680, the piece was rediscovered in the 19th century. It gained more notarity in the 1980’s with the movie Ordinary People. It is not generally known why it was written although one theory is that it was written for a wedding. It was originally written for 4 instruments. Now you hear it scored for large chamber groups, soloists, duets, and even electronic music. It is not a Christmas piece although is heard more frequently during this season. Trans-Siberian Orchestra has a rather popular version frequently heard with lyrics at Christmas. It is used in video games (Might and Magic by Nintendo), movie scores (Ordinary People and The Thin Red Line)
What makes it so special? Well, you hear the chord progression in a number of contemporary songs which makes it familiar. It covers many genres and styles.
I remember my first bridal show many (many) years ago. The coordinator told me to sit there and play the “money song.” I had no idea what she meant until I was about 20 minutes into the show and played Canon. A mother of the bride started to cry. She said that was “the one she wanted her daughter to use.” That’s when I knew. There was something about piece of music. Sure, I had heard it before. I had played it many times. It had gained some notice from a Toyota commercial during the 80’s but what was it about the piece?
I think about a study I saw once on the symmetry of the face. The more symmetrical the face, the more attractive it was said to be. This has to be some of what makes Canon so special. It is very symmetrical. It has these wonderful, full, rich chords and progresses in a pleasing manner. The chords lead the ear to the next note. Each new melody drives us forward to the next variation. The melody is still familiar yet changes to entertain the ear. It matches the symmetry of a wedding: bride and groom, attendants, parents, guests on each side, and the couple facing each other, moving together during the ceremony…
Canon has been used in every facet of a wedding. From prelude to postlude, the entrance of brides, mothers, lighting of candles, and everywhere in between. Even the brides who use some very contemporary music almost always include Canon in there. It is familiar, a musical cue to our guests that a wedding is taking place. It provides a dynamic musical setting for a wedding, which has the same similar highs and lows.
I even like to play it. I really do. I probably play it over 100 times a year in performance and I still love it. I love the variety, the progression and the look on the faces of audiences that hear it. I never get bored with it. It’s amazing what those 8 little notes do for an event. One of my happiest parenting moments was when my daughter learned it on the piano, and then the melody on the violin and played it with me.
So now you know. Canon in D by Pachelbel. Played as a solo, duet, trio, ensemble, chamber group…we all have a favorite arrangement or performance. Remember what I always say about music: The choice that you make is how you make things unique. Don’t shy away from a music selection because you think it is overused. Choose it because you love it, it suits your wedding, and because it will be performed by a musician that cares as much about it as you do.