Diary of a Song: Pachelbel’s Canon

This is the third of a series of blog posts entitled “Diary of a Song“, where I share the stories behind each of the songs from my new album “Illumination“.

At the end of each post, I also include a link to buy the sheet music, and the MP3 download.

Pachelbel’s Canon (A Duet)

This past year, as I was finishing up composing the music for my Illumination album, and figuring out the balance of the tracks (how many original songs vs. covers, fast vs. slow, etc.) I went to my fans to ask them for suggestions for one more Classical song to put on the album.  The song that had the most requests was Canon in D by Pachelbel.

I cringed.

Pachelbel’s Canon is probably one of THE most overdone songs, and as a classical musician I have had to perform this song countless times for concerts, weddings, Christmas, and church.  I know that people just absolutely LOVE this song, but usually for musicians we sort of groan when requested to play it.  And for me personally, I also sometimes cringe when I listen to others perform it as well.  I say that not because I don’t like the song – it’s just that for me it had become a broken record and I had grown super tired of hearing it over the years.  If were a non-musician and only listened to the song a select few times, then of course it would probably be one of my favorite songs too.

But to be honest, when I asked my fans what Classical song they wanted most, I actually did think in my head “Please don’t say Canon, please don’t say Canon…”

pachelbelAnd of course, they all wanted Canon.

One fan, though, mentioned doing Canon as a piano duet.

That got me thinking. If I were able to arrange Canon as a duet and make it different enough so that it was fresh and new, then I would totally do it.

So I started messing around on the piano and trying to figure out ways to arrange Canon in D so that it was a whole different approach to the run-of-the-mill versions that I always hear everyone doing.  I also wanted to keep it true to the original form of the song too though – so it was a bit tricky.  How do I make this song different, but still the same?  I learned the hard way with “O Mio Babbino Caro” from my first album, that taking very uber popular classical songs and making them strikingly different is not always loved by purist classical fans out there.

What I ended up with using most of the traditional Canon chords but adding some close 2nds to modernize the progression.  You can hear this here:

For those who want a quick lesson on what a “Canon” is, it’s a song where one instruments begins doing something and then another instrument comes in and repeats the same thing.  Kind of like when you would sing Row, Row, Row Your Boat as a round when you were a kid in school choir.  I didn’t really feel like spending an entire minute of the song expanding the traditional Canon rounds and so while keeping the chord progressions going, I skipped ahead to the resolve section (which normally doesn’t happen until quite a bit later in the song).

Right after the resolve section, I brought it back down to the simple chords and then after 4 bars, brought in some synth beats to bring an modernized feeling to the song.  I really wanted the song to still resonate emotionally with fans, but I wanted to also give it some “umph”.  I think I was able to accomplish through both the orchestration and piano part to keep an authentic “Canon in D” feel, yet have a freshness to it.

Listen here:

I might add, that it was a challenge trying to write a duet. I’d never done this before, and it took a lot of cross checking to be sure that I wasn’t writing one part that was stealing another part’s piano keys.  This would have been so much simpler to write for two separate pianos, however, most people do not have access to two pianos and I wanted to be sure my fans could download the sheet music and perform this as a duet. Thus, I wrote it for ONE piano, TWO hands, and TWO bums on the piano bench.

I just thought this part turned out really pretty 🙂

By this point we’re already 2 minutes into the song and we still haven’t heard the famous melody.

Ah, bam. There it is: 

It’s in a different key too, I might add. Which is why I ultimately decided against calling the song “Canon in D”, because it really was not in D.  So I called it “Pachelbel’s Canon”.

After the melodic section, I of course had to amp it up because it just wouldn’t be one of my songs if I didn’t have some sort of major climax in the middle of a song, and you can hear that here:

After the big to-do, the song goes back to the same chords from the beginning and really tones it all back down to un-hyper levels.  I think the song ends on a very traditional note, reminding the listener that they did just hear one of the great Classical pieces of music in all of history and so let’s show some respect. 😉

I would say, while my attitude towards the song at the beginning was not the best, I ended up actually having a LOT of fun composing this and orchestrating it as well.  The orchestration actually really turned out a lot differently than I had originally planned on too.  Definitely much bigger and fuller.

Anyway I hope you like my version of this popular classic.  I have actually received some really great comments from people saying things like how this is the best version of Canon they have ever heard, or that when they saw this track was on the album they pre-judged it but after listening to it they found that it was completely fresh and it has become one of their favorites.  I would say my goal of trying to make this song unique was accomplished. Thanks for all your awesome kind words everyone.

Pachelbel PrimoPiano students – if you would like to perform this song with a duet partner, you can go to the link below to get the SHEET MUSIC.  I purposely wrote this song so that it would be able to be performed 100% okay WITHOUT the orchestration. There are no lulls or blanks spots, it’s all filled with both piano parts.

SHEET MUSIC:  http://jenniferthomasmusic.com/store/productdetail.php?product=176

You can DOWNLOAD the MP3 from any of these links below, depending on your online store of choice. Personally, I recommend people to buy from Amazon or iTunes because it helps my rankings go up on those websites.

AMAZON MP3:  http://www.amazon.com/Illumination/dp/B008O0NUSM/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1354582320&sr=8-2&keywords=jennifer+thomas+illumination


JENNIFER’S WEB STORE:  http://jenniferthomasmusic.com/store/productdetail.php?product=167

You can listen to and download the FREE SOLO PIANO VERSION here:

Finally, here is a LIVE performance that I did of the song at my August CD release concert (8/24/2012), featuring my piano student Kristen Yose as my duet partner.


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