Pachelbel’s Canon on Music Boxes

Cannon Firing
A Cannon, but not Pachebel's Canon. Actually, playing Pachebel's Canon with some cannons could be interesting... (Photo by David Brandt via Wikipedia)

Well, I did, indeed, roam around Ms. Hart’s website last night as I mentioned I would do.  Sure enough, there is a lot of neat stuff there!  Among the neat stuff is something that has educated me a bit about music, in particular about what the nature of a canon in music is.

Apparently a canon is a piece of music in which several different instruments (“voices”) play the same bit of music but enter into it in sequence, one right after the other, so that the play is staggered.  (Think: “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” with multiple voices staggering the singing, except prettier and with musical instruments.)

One of the most famous of canons is Pachelbel’s Canon or Canon in D major.  Actually, my wife and I had that played at our wedding when our mothers were taken down the aisle, if I recall.  However, it is often heard arranged as a solo piece–say, for piano–which actually means the arrangement is not a canon, based on the above definition.

Enter Ms. Hart’s website.  If you really want to get a sense for what a canon is and to see the mechanics of a canon illustrated in a fascinating but clear way, head on over to Ms. Vi Hart’s “Music Box” page and watch her (and her fellow musicians) perform Pachelbel’s Canon on multiple music boxes.  (In addition to illustrating the nature of a canon, it also illustrates the technique of basso ostinato or basso continuo.)  The video has text commentary that explains what is going on.  It really is an amazingly simple but effective visualization of what a canon is, and kudos to the performers.

While I recommend visiting her page, she also has an embeddable YouTube video of the performance which I have included below.  Enjoy!

8 thoughts on “Pachelbel’s Canon on Music Boxes

  1. Leona D

    I’ve always loved this song! That video was really quite nifty. I’ll probably think about it every time I hear this song now. 🙂

  2. I wonder if they get out of joint by doing that. It may be the first time in history that carpal tunnel or rotorcuff injuries occur while performing such a peaceful work. (Pardon my lack of anatomical knowledge, you know what I mean.) 🙂

  3. 13brian

    Thanks for sharing. While my wife and I didn’t ‘play’ it at our wedding, we did have it played at our wedding. 🙂

    Beautiful piece of music, very interesting facts about it.

  4. Teresa

    Actually, you can play a canon or fugue on the piano. Different sections of the keyboard become the different “voices”. For instance, middle C to the C below might be the tenor voice, the octave below the bass, from middle C to the C above could be the alto voice and the octave above the soprano. This is a simplified example as in general, the voices will overlap as they do with human or instrumental voices. The canon or fugue will have a beginning motif or theme that is introduced in one voice. As the piece continues, it is revisited in the different voices. The trick in piano playing is to train your fingers to play the keys with varying amounts of pressure so that in a canon or fugue the theme sings out over the the other notes that are being played. J. S. Bach was a genius & master at composing this type of music for the piano.

  5. Teresa

    I was primarily thinking of fugues in the comment above, but canons can be done the same way on the piano. You would begin with the first section of music in one “voice”, proceed with the various voices entering one at a time and eventually playing their parts at the same time which would produce a harmonic sound just as it would if you were using human voices or other instruments, and end with the various “voices” dropping out as their part ended.

  6. Howdy, again, Teresa, and thanks! I was thinking that would be possible but imagined that it would be difficult. Of course, imagining making my hands do all the things you pianists seem to make them do so easily always seems difficult to me!

  7. Pingback: Pachelbel – modern version « Flickr Comments

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