Wednesday, January 9, 2008
On a Ground
That "l" in Pachelbel: the tooth in the middle of the hairball.
We've all heard the Canon in D. It's discharged at regular intervals whenever any of us gets married or dies or hankers for beauty. 15634145 ad nauseum, or at least until the possibilities have spun themselves out and that great engine of a baseline runs out of fuel. The Canon is as well-worn and widely scorned as a New Kids on the Block letter jacket. It manages to inspire love and vitriol in equal measure.
For my part, I'm tired of it. I can't match the invective of organists and string quartet members for whom the piece has become a perquisite for employment, but the truth is that repetitive pieces don't tend to stand up well to repetition. The Canon reminds me of Rush Limbaugh, dressing up the same argument again and again. I want to put my hand on the Canon's shoulder and tell it: hey, it's OK, I hear you.
But for all that I'm tired of the Canon, I'm even more tired of our reflexive contempt for it. Hatred of the Canon has become, well, canonical for classical musicians. It's a rite of passage, a secret handshake: it marks you, at the most basic level, as one of us. The uninitiated adore the Canon. They dream of walking down the aisle in time with its bass, or progressing to heaven via its reassuring chords. It's the "cool" people, the ones in the know, who spurn it.
And folks, that ain't right. Number one, the Canon is not, when judged apart from its reduplicative properties, a lousy piece. It's actually fairly decent. Not complicated, not groundbreaking, but a solid exemplar of its genre. The fact that it has metastasized throughout our musical Body Politic should not be held against it.
Number two, is it really in the best interests of classical musicians to scorn any public yearning, no matter how feeble, toward classical music? Sure it's kind of like praising your kid for reading Dark Renegade: Romance on Ice when you really want her to be reading Henry James, but would you rather she be playing Dance Dance Revolution?
That's where we'll end up if the Canon Haters have their way. Playing DDR.