Friday, December 16, 2016

Finals Week: Grading Music!

Finals week: the time of year when I wear headphones and spend a LOT of time in front of a laptop. From the moment I saw Lin-Manuel Miranda's performance of Alexander Hamilton at the White House in 2009, I knew Hamilton: an American Musical would be one of my favorite finals week obsessions. There are a thousand reasons why Hamilton is a joy for fans of history, musical theater and hip-hop (and for anyone with ears), but there is a lot for students of religion too.

For one thing, Hamilton is a mediation on Providence. In the opening number, we meet Alexander Hamilton - a brilliant but penniless orphan who immigrates to what would become (due in part to Hamilton's powerful writings and political maneuverings) the United States. Why was he born with so few resources and did his tragic, destitute beginnings make him into the tenacious, creative force of nature whose ideas helped create the world as we know it? Was it divine intervention or chance?

Later in life, Hamilton meets his nemesis (and [spoiler alert!] his killer), a privileged, wealthy young Aaron Burr. The two have a Mozart-Salieri type of relationship: Burr cannot understand what makes a man like Hamilton tick. And (in one of the most tightly-written songs you will ever hear), he questions his own more hesitant nature, his place in the grand scheme of life, and what questions Christianity can and can't answer in Wait for It. 

In Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story, we get a poignant, understated musical finale that self-consciously critiques how we tell the story of our Founding Fathers (e.g. where are the Mothers?) and invites us to think about the afterlife in terms of legacy. Who makes sure that Hamilton lives on? Who gets to tell our stories? Do we live forever if they are told well?

SO while I'm finishing out the semester, chances are, I'll be listening to Hamilton... are you obsessed with Hamilton or some other record? Write me and let me know what I should be putting on my end-of-the-term playlist!

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