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Pachelbel’s Canon in D: Wedding Processional and Holiday Favorite!

Hold onto your hats, it’s Pachelbel’s Canon in D, in more ways than you could have imagined! It’s currently known as the most popular current choice for a wedding processional, and ever since George Winston recorded it on piano, also a holiday favorite (you’ll find his version at the bottom). I got inspired to see how many different variations of high quality recordings are available on YouTube. You would definitely NOT want some of these at your wedding, but it might be fun to have a listen.

First, I thought I’d start with a video that’s the most exemplary of what Pachelbel would have intended: 

So how did Pachelbel’s Canon become so popular at weddings? After muddling around in almost complete obscurity for over 250 years, how did it suddenly become the perfect wedding tune for everyone in the 1970s and 80s and into the 21st century? Well, after being rediscovered in the early twentieth century, and recorded by a few well-known performers, from Arthur Fiedler in 1940 to George Winston in 1982, and many others in between, it struck a chord with many people. 

It has that stately elegance, and sense of expectant waiting that defines the feeling that most people seek in announcing the bride’s entrance and the upcoming transformation from two individuals to a married couple. On a practical level, it has much flexibility – it can be played on any instrument combination and still have the effect of an elegant announcement – particularly since our culture recognizes it in this context. It also has eight beat phrases that come to a potential natural stopping point after each – so regardless of how long it takes the bride to reach the altar, the music can end gracefully.

Then again, cellists have been known to fall asleep during their highly repetitive sequence – and I’m sure you’d prefer NOT to have this version at your wedding – unless it’s at your reception, with the part where the cellist is dreaming:

Many musicians strongly recommend against the Pachelbel Canon, citing that it’s overused and therefore impersonal (and to guard against their cellist falling asleep). There are two trains of thought on this: 1) If you want to make a unique choice for your wedding, that’s great! I love helping couples find a unique path. 2) On the other hand, if Pachelbel’s Canon feels like your personal choice, and you’re a person who loves the familiar and traditional, there’s absolutely every reason to choose the Pachelbel Canon. One thing I do sometimes suggest is that if you love the Pachelbel Canon and would like to hear more than one or two phrases, you may wish to consider delaying the bride’s entrance for a bit (seems appropriate to me to make them a little anxious with anticipation of the big event!).

If you don’t LOVE the Pachelbel Canon, you still may have some fun with the following videos, or enjoy the variations possible, so I humbly present some of my personal preferences of recordings available on YouTube of Pachelbel’s Canon in D.

Here’s an April Fools variation with orchestra and choir:

Anyone for a bagpipe version? 

Here’s a lovely classical guitar rendition:

And featuring oboe, with violin, cello, piano: 

And in honor of the holiday season, here’s George Winston’s variations on piano, from his album “December”: 

Lisa Carlson is a flutist offering ensembles for weddings and other occasions in duos, trios, quartets in a variety of instrumental combinations, and staff wedding music writer for Vermont Bride. She also maintains a private flute studio in Montpelier, Vermont, in addition to teaching flute at Upper Valley Music Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire, and online.