Sheet Music Review
Damien Chapelle’s La La Land has proved to be one of the most talked-about movies of 2017, garnering 14 Oscar nominations and picking up six, including Best Original Score by Justin Hurwitz, and Best Original Song for City of Stars, composed by Hurwitz with lyricists Benj Hasek & Justin Paul.
One talking point which will particularly interest readers of Pianodao is that lead actor Ryan Gosling learnt to play the piano music for his role (wholly by rote) in just three months before filming, performing it with no stunt double. It’s a remarkable achievement both for Gosling, and for the teacher who worked with him.
Learn more in this short radio interview from the BBC4 Today programme – it’s fascinating and thought provoking, although we must bear in mind that Gosling was working at the piano for several hours a day, with two-hour-long daily lessons five days a week.
The results are certainly inspiring – as a student of mine put it, the piano playing is one of the best parts of the film!
And now – for those who can’t copy Ryan Gosling by setting aside the time and cost of learning daily by rote – Faber Music bring us the sheet music for the film’s great songs and key moments.
One Soundtrack, Two Music Books …
Faber Music have published not one. but two versions of the music.
Firstly, there is Selections from ‘La La Land’, which is scored for vocal, piano accompaniment, and with jazz chord notation added above the songline. And secondly, Easy Piano ‘La La Land’, in which lyrics are included between the staves of a simplified piano part, with larger print, and chord symbols still included.
I will look at each in more detail in a moment, but first note that included titles are identical between both publications, and are as follows:
- Another Day in the Sun
- Someone in the Crowd
- Mia & Sebastian’s Theme
- A Lovely Night
- City of Stars
- Start a Fire
- Engagement Party
- Audition (The Fools who Dream)
This represents almost all the main titles from the soundtrack. And while more adventurous players might miss the full-on jazz licks of Herman’s Habit and Summer Montage, these would probably be impossible to condense for easy piano!
The books themselves are very nicely done, with glossy covers featuring the now-iconic film poster: off-setting the purple skyline with that yellow dress and white shirt was an inspired piece of image making!
The only difference between the covers is the small lettering at the top. But inside it’s a different story, so let’s take a look …
Selections from ‘La La Land’
Behind the glossy cover, Selections from La La Land includes a title page and then it’s straight to the music. The ten songs are afforded 72 pages, transcribed in full, and without resorting to annoying multi-page repeats. Engraving is clean and well spaced throughout.
Following the score while listening to the soundtrack, I was immediately impressed with the effort that has gone into retaining as many signature parts from each song as possible, but without creating a piano part that is unnecessarily difficult in the process.
It’s particularly helpful that the piano part here avoids excessive stretches, for example, and although no fingering suggestions are included, the music is eminently playable and pianistic. And for those who enjoy singing while playing, the neat arrangements, layout and presentation make this an ideal choice.
As I mentioned, jazz chords appear above the top line vocal, or in the case of the purely instrumental numbers, above the piano stave. These are given fully, including such notations as B7sus, Emin(add4), Gmaj7, and so on. These will delight the more experimental player who wants to vamp an accompaniment, but it’s worth noting this isn’t a standard PVG (piano, vocal, guitar) layout – there are no bar chords or “tab” for the occasional guitarist who wants to strum along, which may disappoint a few.
For piano players though, the main point to note is that the song melody line does not generally appear in the piano part. So if you want to play complete arrangements of the songs as piano solos, without singing, then look to the Easy Piano version…
Easy Piano ‘La La Land’
This edition features, as already noted, simplified piano versions of the songs including the full melody line. The notation is larger, as are the chord symbols (although these still include complex chord extensions as before).
The lyrics appear between staves so that the player (and anyone else) can still sing if they wish.
The question for many will be,
How easy is “easy”?
I would say that the arrangements here are around Grade 3 (while the Selections book is closer to Grade 5). One still finds plenty of accurately notated syncopations, triplet quavers and semiquavers, and stretches of a seventh.
Keys are in some cases simplified. For example, the opening Another Day in the Sun (which has a super-fast tempo in the original) is in the Selections book notated in E flat major, modulating up a semitone to E major, whereas in the Easy Piano version it is written in F major, shifting up a full tone to G.
A few simplifications may sound a little off to those who have a good ear and are familiar with the soundtrack, but in general I would expect that the vast majority will be enamoured with the Easy Piano versions, which are for the most part an object lesson in how to make effective simplified versions.
In the past I have come across song books produced to tie-in with a surprise hit movie, and which have clearly been rushed to market. Not so here.
The arrangements and presentation of the book are, quite simply, exemplary in every respect.
So much so that I think these books could be used productively side-by-side by students of composition and arranging. They provide excellent material for studying the art of making good transcriptions, further underlined by the good range of styles and pace in the music itself.
Some players might struggle to choose which of the two books to purchase – the trade off is between the more accurate transcriptions of the Selections book, or the piano-only arrangements of the Easy Piano version, which miss some of the signature licks from the score. Those not used to reading songs across three lines of music would do best to opt for the Easy Piano version, while more advanced players will not regret buying the Selections.
Piano teachers could also benefit from owning both books, and undoubtedly many teenage and adult students who find much enjoyment from playing these songs. However much we enjoy teaching the music of Cramer, Heller and Kabalevsky, there are many who take up the piano with an ambition to play songs and movie scores such as this.
And what a score this is! Fully deserving of its two Oscars, the music from La La Land is packed with catchy tunes, adroit craftsmanship, and expert pacing.
Whatever one thinks of the film itself, ‘La La Land’ is a bandwagon dominated by the piano, and those with an interest in playing or teaching would do well not to miss out!
Available online from Musicroom here.