“Aha” Lyric Moments in Hamilton and Beyond
Currently, I am obsessed with the cast recording of Hamilton. This album is completely genius. When I listen, I find myself focused on each line, listening carefully trying to take in every lyric on the album. I am constantly amazed by the cleverly crafted lyrics and sound. My favorite song or lyric changes constantly, but hey, it’s okay to have many favorites. The thing about being a fan of musical theatre, or anything really, is the appreciation for those moments that speak to you.
Within any given song, even though it is the same music and lyrics, everyone can have a different experience. I love those sort of “aha” moments with lyrics. Some of my favorite moments are the ones you notice after multiple listens. Whether it is a catchy chorus, a poignant verse, or flawless instrumentals, I enjoy noticing and appreciating things I missed when I first listened.
Lyricists and composers take their time carefully crafting these songs, so I imagine that they want listeners to have those “aha” moments where we appreciate their genius. In fact, if you follow Lin-Manuel Miranda on Twitter, you’ll notice he enjoys people noticing references or recurring themes in the music. For example, a particular “aha” moment for me in Hamilton was a parallel between Alexander Hamilton and his son, Philip. In “My Shot,” Alexander says:
“I’m ‘a get a scholarship to King’s College
I prob’ly shouldn’t brag, but dag, I amaze and astonish
The problem is I got a lot of brains but no polish
I gotta holler just to be heard
With every word, I drop knowledge!
I’m a diamond in the rough, a shiny piece of coal
Tryin’ to reach my goal. My power of speech: unimpeachable
Only nineteen but my mind is older
These New York City streets get colder, I shoulder
Ev’ry burden, ev’ry disadvantage
I have learned to manage, I don’t have a gun to brandish.”
Then, similar lyrics are later echoed in “Blow Us All Away” by Philip:
“Meet the latest graduate of King’s College!
I prob’ly shouldn’t brag, but, dag, I amaze and astonish!
The scholars say I got the same virtuosity and brains as my pops!
The ladies say my brain’s not where the resemblance stops!
I’m only nineteen but my mind is older
Gotta be my own man, like my father, but bolder
I shoulder his legacy with pride.”
This parallel of father and son reveals both their similarities and differences. Philip has every opportunity that Alexander didn’t, yet they have the same tenacity. This age or time in their life held important moments that affect their future. It’s moments like this where I am wowed by great storytelling. There so many instances like this in Hamilton, especially musically.
Of course, every show has these moments. Musical theatre is meant to tell these stories creatively. I can probably talk endlessly about these moments in my favorite shows and I think that is another great thing – discussing a show with someone that has a different perspective of the show. It is having that exchange of “did you notice…” that we start discussing and sharing art with each other. No matter how many times you see a show or listen to a recording, there will always be something new to notice.