The Wedding Processional: I’ll take Pachelbel’s Canon, please!

It’s no wonder that Canon is one of the most requested pieces of music at weddings – it makes all of the ‘best of’ lists, it’s on every classical music hit list, and the chord progression and melody itself have been worked into many pop songs and commercials. Jet Set Strings even has an arrangement of Piano Man in which Canon sneaks in at the end – to which one of my cellist colleagues said “I knew it! I knew I couldn’t get through a wedding without playing Canon!” So there you have it – Canon + Billy Joel in a modern day mash up. Whatever or wherever you choose the Canon, or if you don’t choose it at all, it’s the opening phrase that has come to accompany life’s important moments and hush the fidgety crowd for so many brides. It works, trust me.

As musicians we all have a little fun with it – in the string quartet, the cellist has the 8-note phrase, played over and over again, 28 times through. Repeat, repeat, repeat. On top of the cellist’s 8 note phrase are the two violins and viola, playing the melody line in a round. What we play now is very close to the original; he wrote it for a bass instrument and 3 treble (violins). The Piano Guys also have a humorous take with one of their recent recordings.

No doubt Pachelbel knew what he was doing back in about 1680, although the Canon was one of thousands of works that he completed during this lifetime. He was a composer of the High Baroque, and left quite the framework for Bach, Mozart and many, many of the later classical composers. Even though we solely identify him with Canon, I don’t even think there’s a system yet to categorize his volume of work. (For example, with Mozart’s, someone came along and numbered and categorized them, which is why each of them begins with a K. followed by a number).

Since then, countless ears have taken the Canon and adapted it, rearranged it; and then musicians played it with different configurations of instruments, sang it, played in on street corners, played it in churches, and played it for friends. I’ve played it with my quartet, with piano, with accordion (my husband Jeff Jetton graciously took over those 8 famous notes), and as a solo.

If you do want the Canon, I am at your service! And even if you don’t, know that the famous framework may just be the foundation of some of your dance-grooving favorites at the reception.