Sunday, December 11, 2011

Dear 'Canon in D'

Dear Canon in D,

The first time I heard you was in the movie, Father of the Bride, when Annie Banks was walking down the aisle to marry the man of her dreams.  Five years later, it was in my own wedding, when my little brother (twelve-years-old at the time) played it on his violin during the procession.  And amazingly, another fifteen years later, my Dear Daughter will be playing it on stage with her fellow music school violinists for the annual holiday concert. 

There are a few pieces of violin music that are so beautiful and haunting that, upon hearing them, my eyes tear up without intention.  Canon in D by Johann Pachelbel is one of them.  Written in the 1680's, it has become such a timeless and classic piece of music that it has been adapted to many different instruments and played at events such as weddings and other celebrations.  Originally, it was written for 3 violins and a bass, played in rounds, as you can see from the score in the video above (with the top three staffs for violin, the fourth for bass, and an accompaniment on a grand staff at the bottom).  This concept is similar to the popular folk song Row, Row, Row Your Boat sung in rounds.

When I listen to Canon in D, I just cannot help but think of the genius of the composer.  The progression of the notes and chords seem so very simple and logical, yet delicately exquisite.  The music brings the listener from a tranquil, complacent state to a climax of substantial yet ethereal joy; it moves onto a grander, more uplifting feel offset by more staccato and repetitive sounds, and finally finishing on a very fulfilled and complete end.  It is by far my favorite classical music piece.

When DD started playing violin, I knew that the day she plays this piece is the day I will be bawling in the audience.  That day is here.  To say the least, her journey with this instrument has not always been easy.  With her perfectionist personality, there has been lots of tears due to frustration and fear.  But also because of the perfectionist in her, I have felt her pride and delight in knowing how to express herself through music with this instrument.  I envy her grasp of music and violin technique, as I believe that it is something that I will never experience as fully as she.

The violin is a beautiful piece of instrument.  It can make multitudes of tones and layers of depth in its sound.  When DD started lessons, I also decided to learn for both myself and to help her along.  An adult learning to play the violin is much different than a child; our fingers are more rigid and much less natural at the subtle motions.  A grown-up can read music and learn to play pieces faster, but a child learns to mold to the violin with so much more ease that it eventually becomes an extension of the child.  I had always stayed several pieces ahead of DD in the Suzuki books until this year, where I've only managed to stay just ahead of her so that I can help with notes when she learns a new piece.  Her technique has far surpassed my abilities.

When I learned that DD was going to play Canon in D for the holiday concert, I was both nervous and excited.  (The violinists are playing the first half of the piece, up to 2:13 in time from the video above).  For selfish reasons, I really wanted to learn it as well.  It took me an entire afternoon to play it by reading the music.  Weeks later, it took me another entire afternoon to memorize it.  But learning it is not hard; playing it with grace and ease is.  Furthermore, playing alone is not hard, but playing it in rounds with other people playing different parts of the music is extremely hard.  During this entire time, DD was practicing it daily, and I'd only picked up the violin those two or three times.  She was the one helping me learn the piece last week.  In the end, I'm ecstatic that I can actually play it, even if it's not fluently.  But I am more ecstatic about DD playing it with such poise, speed, and confidence, alone and in rounds.

(Here is another video showing Canon in D played in original instruments, by San Francisco Early Music Ensemble Voices of Music.  This video also provides a very interesting read on the instruments/pitch used in this performance that are the same as Pachelbel's Baroque era).

This afternoon, DD will play you, Pachelbel's Canon in D, in the third group of violins on stage.  And though she has learned only half of this piece, I look forward to the day she can play the entire piece and love it as much as I do.  Maybe my old, rigid fingers can still try to learn it with her as well.  But I will remember to bring a wad of tissue to the concert, because watching DD play my favorite piece of music on stage will very likely overfill my heart with enough joy to blur the vision of her smile when she lifts her eyes from her violin to meet mine.



  1. Sandra, this is by far my favorite piece of classical music too. I don't remember the first time I heard it as it was ages ago. This piece always creates the image of a little stream building into a creek, becoming a river with waterfalls and finally opening up into a calm flowing river. Beautiful, I never tire of listening to it.

    You must be so proud of your daughter. Sadly mine gave up on the violin, we would like to start piano lessons, her hands are so big.

  2. i believe this is my fav as well... i walked down the isle to this piece and remember how beautiful the church was that day and how perfect the violin sounded as Alex walked with me down the isle to meet Chris and to begin to our new life!! :) I would be crying too if I heard my daughter playing it.

  3. Oh that is ABsolutely one of my favorite pieces, as well. It always brings tears to my eyes and is so incredibly moving - and enduring, no? I wish I could have used it in my wedding, but ... Catholic churches are a bit more strict. I lived though!

    I'm jealous that you have a child playing the violin and getting to hear all this, but I know I can't manage to have the wee ones do everything I wish they could. It's too much time and energy for them, let alone the money for all the activities for me! Have a GREAT time at the concert, and enjoy your cry.

  4. Everyone who commented here and on Facebook all said the same: Favorite piece of classical music!

    Laura, I LOVE the imagery you visualize. And yes, I am very proud!

    Helen, How beautiful that Alex walked you down the aisle! And yes, the tears did show up.

    Michelle, My eyes sure did well up. It was definitely a 'moment' to remember.

    Unfortunately, we had to visit the ER (again) after the concert because DS accidentally ingested peanut inside a chocolate. That day was full of drama, good and bad.

  5. Canon in D is one of my absolutest favorite piece of music. A friend introduced me to it. Since then, Canon has been one of my to-go to music whenever I am in a mood. I think I have collected several versions of this one.
    Since your link is not working anymore, I want to share with you one of my favorite versions -


    1. Thanks, Imelda! I had no idea that the link was no longer working. It was a great video, but I've replaced it with yours. I loved the description on the video about the instruments and pitch being the same as Pachelbel's Baroque era's! Thanks again for reading archive posts! (I see that you are drawn to classical music and violin topics!)

    2. Hah! Classical music is the only type of music that I can listen to for ours. I am ignorant about today's music. I only heard a Justin Bieber music once - and that is through a kid neighbor's party. Somehow, I have low tolerance for present day music, but I like the standards though.


    3. With a tweenish girl, Bieber-ish music is just a matter of time in this household! Both my kids love pop music, but they do get their fair share of classical music with all the violin pieces we listen to.