“Hey, it’s Lafayette,” I said and smiled as if referring to a friendly acquaintance. I recognized his recorded voice at the gift shop at The Kennedy Center last weekend: the opening song of Hamilton was playing in the background. After the music’s dramatic buildup and split-second pause, I sang along with the name “Alexander Hamilton” and explained to my husband what fascinates me about this song: he enters quietly and states his name as the other characters introduce their relationships to him. Although I have only heard a recording of the show instead of hearing it live, each person’s voice seems familiar.
I first listened to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton in its entirety on a road trip during Martin Luther King, Jr. Weekend 2018. I was returning from the Sisterhood of Composer/Performers concert at Norfolk State University. I discussed my initial reactions in the car with my colleague, but over the past few weeks, echoes of Hamilton have come to mind at seemingly random moments.
While preparing for a talk on protest song, I remembered a betrayed woman singing a single word full of beauty and strength: “Forgiveness.” I was reminded that after truth, reconciliation is possible.
I watched my students banter before class and recalled a quartet of young men banding together to change the world. I felt inspired to watch who they become and how they collaborate with each other.
One morning when my commuter train was late, I saw my Red Rose Transit bus pass by before I could catch it. I walked through a nearby park to the next bus stop. As I waited, I chanted “I am not gonna miss my bus” to the tune of “I am not throwin’ away my shot.” The original refrain is the one I most want to live up to.
Echoes of Hamilton were a complementary appetizer to the feast of West Side Story in concert–with dance and a background projected collages–at The Kennedy Center. Underrepresented singers filled the stage, ruminated on the meaning of being poor and of being immigrants, and argued and fought over honor and rights. Envisioning the United States through the work of Bernstein and Miranda gives me hope as my reckoning with brokenness aligns with the call of National Symphony Orchestra principal pops conductor Steven Reineke:
To honor Leonard Bernstein’s centennial, I implore each of us as individuals to begin ‘Here, Now, and Compassionately.’