The La La Land effect

The La La Land effect
by John Doe

I’ve already noticed customers coming in to The Piano Shop and playing little snippets from the film that they’re working out by ear, so perhaps this fun, frothy and romantic musical will help to boost interest in piano playing and even encourage some to take up the instrument. The fact that Ryan Gosling learnt to play sufficiently well in three months that the director, Damien Chazelle, didn’t have to use a double when filming close-ups of his piano-playing hands, is now very well known. This might encourage those adults who wished that they hadn’t given up playing in childhood to get those lessons started again. Let’s hope so!

The song City of Stars, which acts as a kind of leit-motif throughout the movie, is quite memorable and I think uses the standard 32-bar AABA song form to good effect. It’s at the heart of the movie and acts as central point of reference. There will be many pianists who will want to play it. But unfortunately the music of the movie as a whole doesn’t translate as effectively to the piano as the music of all the classic musicals does, despite John Legend’s recently-released medley of City of Stars and Audition (The Fools Who Dream) which is bound to be very popular.

For me, the sound track as a whole suffers from a lack of modulation which makes it rather monochrome. I found the melodic material limited: how many songs would most people be able to recall a day or two after watching the movie?

Think of all the classic musicals and how those ‘piano medley’ and ‘piano selection’ books were created. The piano books for musicals such as The Sound of Music, Oklahoma and the rest were huge hits for the publishers. Pianists around the world still love to sit and play Singing in the Rain or Some Enchanted Evening. A tune like My Favourite Thing has been reinvented time and again as a jazz standard and there are many perennial favourites from the shows which work really well as solo piano pieces. I doubt that the songs from La La Land will reach that same audience, even if one or two remain reasonably well known in future years. Time will tell!

But while I don’t think it will be the music itself which will inspire more people to take up the piano, I do think having a jazz piano-playing lead role in the character of Sebastien helps to raise the profile of the instrument in the public’s consciousness. Ryan Gosling did a great job and even John Legend was impressed, saying: "I was jealous, man... Watching him play, I was like, 'Wow, this guy is really good and he just learned this in the last few months.' It's pretty amazing." So hats off to Ryan Gosling - plus his amazing teacher! - and I very much hope that his sympathetic and engaging character helps to produce that positive La La Land effect.


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