Canon in D: The Cellist’s Nightmare

This is just hilarious. I can’t think of any piece more dreaded by professional classical musicians than the ubiquitous Pachelbel Canon in D. Pops concerts for symphony players, of course. And for those who make a big part of their living playing weddings, wedding receptions, and background music at parties, it’s inescapable.

Back when I played a lot of background music gigs (and I’m eternally grateful to DePauw for making it possible for me not to have to do them any more), I had the simple 8-note bass line, which repeats over and over, so internalized that I could play it and do something else–like read. I had a string trio in the early 1980s which had a regular Sunday brunch gig at a restaurant in Baltimore’s Harborplace, an upscale shopping mall right on the harbor. I’d buy the New York Times before we started or at our first break. Then during the inevitable Pachelbel, I’d set up the magazine section on my music stand and read an article, usually Safire’s “On Language” column, while we played.

My sympathies to all who still have to play this regularly. Worst thing about it, of course, is that I still like the piece, despite myself!

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Canon in D: The Cellist’s Nightmare

  1. Carolyn-Anne Templeton

    First off, thank you for posting this… it made my evening. I even shared it on Facebook.

    Second, playing a piece that you kinda like while reading Safire in front of the Inner Harbor across from the best crabcakes I’ve ever had the pleasure to eat (Legal Seafood… it may be a chain, but it’s an amazing one) does not sound like a bad thing to me. In fact, it sounds like heaven 🙂

    Again, thanks.

  2. Eric Edberg

    Legal Seafood wasn’t around back in the early ’80s when I had that gig–but there were amazing crabcakes in “charm city” (aka Bawlmer) nonetheless. It was indeed a great gig, and paid my rent for quite a while!

    And crabcakes–well, only in Maryland do they seem to understand that a real crabcake is 97% crab and 3% cake–just enough to keep the crab from falling apart. And I’ve been to a Legal Seafood in D.C. and loved it.

  3. Anonymous

    Is this Canon actually a Passacaglia? I read this somewhere…

  4. Eric Edberg

    Yes, the Canon in D is also a passacaglia, and a chaconne, too (since those terms are used interchangeably). Passacaglias/chaconnes are built over a repeating bass line. And it’s that repeated bass line, combined with building ornamentation of the canon above it, which makes the piece so enveloping.

    I love ostinati (repeated figures); a passacaglia bass line is a form of ostinato.

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