I’ve always been kind of embarrassed by the fact that a single, beautiful chord can stir me to tears – pretty significant ones – and usually at least one number in a musical show will bring me pretty close to actual sobs.
Usually not because it’s sad, but because at some point in every show, there is a song that, through tight harmonies and swelling orchestral riffs; crescendos and decrescendos, and lyrics will connect with/ignite/soothe something so deep in my soul that I’m reduced to a blubbering puddle of awe at what I’ve heard, annoyance at the goosebumps on my skin, jealousy that I didn’t write it first, and joy at the soaring music guaranteed to transport me to an out – of – body experience.
Such was the case with my first experience of Hamilton, the pretty-much-overnight phenomenon that is sweeping the nation.
The song that drew me in initially was “My Shot.” It’s a rap, a genre I actually appreciate quite a bit. It’s amazingly executed. I bought it as soon as I heard it, just that single, and then on a recent road trip, Andrew and I listened to the full album which he had purchased. And that’s when the chills and tears and seething at Lin Manuel Miranda’s having more talent in his pinkie nail than I’ve ever even seen, began.
The song that did me in was “It’s Quiet Uptown.” That one actually is excruciatingly sad as it chronicles Alexander and Elizabeth Hamilton’s grief journey after they’ve lost their son. But, what made it more of a punch in the soul for me was a recollection I had, of that song being used on social media a year or so ago, as a dirge for the many victims of racially-motivated violence ending in uncalled for early deaths.
I think I’d call it a bit of a spiritual experience, really, because the music put me in a place of reflection, not only on the tragedy of a young life lost in this historical narrative, but of so many lives lost – continuing to be lost – in our present narrative.
Speaking of which, I have built much of my life, writing and ministry around the concept of narrative – the telling of stories: mine, God’s, my faith community’s. I even found the more theologically nuanced parts of my own story connecting to Hamilton’s in a line from the song “Wait for It.”
In this song, Aaron Burr sings of his love for Theodosia, and sings the story of his life, including the fact that his grandfather “was a fire and brimstone preacher.” Yep. “Sinners -in – the – hands – of – an – angry – God Jonathan Edwards, whose sermons I read, analyzed and studied in seminary, and whose wife’s name was Sarah, was the grandfather of the man who shot and killed Alexander Hamilton.
In a stroke of musical and narrative genius, Lin Manuel Miranda has woven together a moving and inspiring narrative, the threads of which reach out and tickle us with delight and awe, shock and splendor, and the deep soul-cleansing feeling of listening to a really good song over and over again.
Musical themes riff on each other throughout the play, but they are strategically placed and timed just perfectly enough to remind you of the words to previous songs with those melodies, creating a layered and multifaceted emotional experience that just has to be lived for yourself by listening to Hamilton from beginning to end.
How one can take something as mundane as a former secretary of the treasury and turn it into an instant hit with current implications is beyond me, but thankfully not beyond Lin Manuel Miranda.
A friend asked the FaceBook land recently, “where do you go when you need to experience the genuine?” My reply? The Hamilton Soundrack.
Moving, raw, earthy, relevant, beautiful.