I am currently learning to play Canon in D by Pachelbel on the harp. I’m slowly getting it and I realise the thing I love best about it, and the thing that makes it easy to play, are those repeating chords that continue throughout the piece. At least they do in my grossly simplified version. Of course some chords are easier for me than others and I can keep my timing right and it sounds lovely, then I hit a one that is less familiar, the momentum is lost and stilted or I somehow get my fingers in a knot and there’s a jarring twang on the wrong string, luckily we then return to the familiar pattern and I’m back on track once more. Also – since I’m not an advanced player, and the Celtic harp is itself a simplified version of the classical harp, the tune has been arranged to be played in C so I guess technically it’s not Canon in D at all. I think I will call my version “Canon in Smug Self-Congratulation” in honour of the warm glow of pride I get whenever I’ve managed to play it right though. It is currently the thing I start every practice session with because it’s pretty and it makes me sound like I know what I’m doing. Also, it’s such a well known tune that I can easily tell if there’s a mistake and I know where each step will lead. Thus I strike out with a lot of misguided confidence to any tune I know less well. How quickly the inflated pride balloon plays it’s own tune – “The Return of Humility” to the accompaniment of a resounding raspberry.
But it’s no good only playing the old tunes again and again, safely sticking to what we know – no matter how perfectly we can perform them. We don’t progress that way and we don’t discover new possibilities or expand our repertoire enough to pique any fresh interest. Incidentally, I love that the word pique means not only to “excite, stir or galvanize” but also to “irritate, vex, displease or upset". Two people could use the same word in the same sentence and mean two entirely different things. But that’s just the point isn’t it? Just about everything that excites and galvanizes me is irritating and upsetting to someone else. Like that guy who made a flute out of a carrot – what series of events could possibly have led him to do this I don’t know - I’ve watched the YouTube video of it multiple times and in the field of root-vegetable based musicality the guy is a genius, although admittedly that is a fairly limited field. And who knows where his ingenuity might lead. We could end up with an entire orchestra made purely from produce – the eggplant guitar, rutabaga drums, beet maracas, a tube fashioned from a single stick of celery - perhaps even a xylophone with bars from the largest gourd to the smallest chili pepper and played with green onions. I don’t know about you but I would pay good money to see such a group play a rendition of the 1812 Overture complete with coconut cannons. Plus you could have a very healthy dinner at the end of the evening.
But to return for a moment to the comfort of rhythm – the Anglican Church does this very well. I like the prescribed cycles of Advent, Christmas, Easter, Pentecost and the progression of the Lectionary. It somehow manages to be comforting and challenging at the same time (see carrot flute – above). I write in the full knowledge that we are approaching November, the time when we are asked to state our intention for the financial support of All Saints as we prepare for 2019. This is my least favourite part of my job and my least favourite part of participating in anything. Whatever you’re involved in there’s always going to be times when you have to either hand over some cash, sell tickets or elicit some kind of donation. As soon as I see a form lying around with the words “credit card number” written on it a part of me shrivels up, raisin like, as I shrink from my responsibilities. I don’t know why and I know it doesn’t make sense. Financial support is as necessary to a Church as the percussion to an orchestra and without that basic sustaining pulse the sound would be the auditory equivalent of 70’s fashion choices to the eye ie loud and unnecessarily offensive.
We all play our part, whether it’s banging on those insanely huge drums things that look like giant coconut halves or tooting along on our carrot flute we can all bring something to the table. The tricky part is seeing what you have and imagining what it could become.