Monday, May 8, 2017

What I learned from Pachelbel Canon in D

Everyone is familiar with this beautiful piece "Pachelbel Canon in D" from the baroque era. I was hired to play this piece for a wedding recently and here's what I learned from studying and practicing this piece over six months.

Firstly, I see that musical lessons run parallel to life's lessons. For instance, if you have a problem with rushing through your day, chances are good you tend to rush the tempo in a given piece. I have that problem somewhat. Not because I am trying to get through a piece quickly but because I am so eager to show the listener how beautiful the next passage is. With a piece like Pachelbel Canon though, the timing must flow slowly with clarity and precision. I worked with a metronome for months to train myself to play the piece in a very steady, precise rhythm.

I learned a lot about bringing my own colors and musical phrases into the piece too. I have to admit, coming up with my own arrangement that would honor the tradition of the piece and also have my own unique touch was pretty challenging. I liken it to having to wear a beige colored outfit --something plain which would not stand out in a crowd. That was where my Pachelbel Canon was heading for a few months. It was ok but it was not "me."  I knew that I could wear a colorful sash or scarf to bring in my own colors while respecting the required dress code. To find my own colors and voice I turned to other guitarists who are known for never playing anything in a boring or redundant way. Here is Sungha Jung playing Pachelbel Canon. 

From him I got the idea to create my own introduction before the well known opening chordal passage and then I used the melodic idea in the outro/ending of the piece. That helped shape my vision of the piece to be more "me." I then asked myself, "How would You play this piece?" I am not really known for playing baroque music and since it was for a wedding, I needed the piece to sound like what others expected it to sound like. So it was a challenge to me to put in elements of my own guitar riffs and embellishments.

Not only that, but the church was very small and the bridal procession would only last about 40 seconds. I had to somehow find a way to condense the piece that would have all the known elements in it in a short time (usually this piece takes 2-4 minutes to play through).

What aided me in my conception of the piece was that I saw these pictures of a beautiful stained glass cabin by Neile Coooper from this webpage. Then I imagined the playing of Pachelbel Canon would be like entering a stained glass castle. Each level would become more ornate and intricate as the piece of music progressed.

I have posted some of the pictures of the stained glass cabin throughout, so you get an idea. All of these ideas helped to shape my own Pachelbel Canon in D that I enjoyed playing very much. 

My musical lessons led to life lessons. To move through my day unhurried. To express myself with simplicity and clarity. To know what I want and have a vision and set out to achieve that. 
To look for the beauty in life and stay with that vision no matter what chaos is going on in the world around me. 

I'd say that's quite a lot to learn from a piece of music. What do you learn from this piece?