Hamilton, the phenomenally popular Broadway musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda, can easily impact your music curriculum. Many educators, especially history teachers, have tapped into the Hamilton musical score to enhance student learning. Educators in many disciplines often tap into popular culture icons to enliven their curriculum. The musical Hamilton is considered groundbreaking because it features not only traditional show music but also rap, hip hop, and R&B. The musical is sung-through and fast moving, holding the audience’s attention.
The Hamilton score can easily be used to enrich the vocal and instrumental music curriculum and create interdisciplinary lessons. The musical is based on Ron Chernow’s biography Alexander Hamilton published in 2004. See the sidebar “Chronology of Hamilton: An American Musical” for a timeline of the creation and staging of Hamilton: An American Musical.
Hamilton is both a historically-based musical and biographical musical. 1776 and Les Miserables, for example, are historically-based musicals. Other biographical musicals before Hamilton include The Sound of Music, Evita, Coco, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, and many others. Attendance at Hamilton performances in New York and Chicago is similar to previous long-running hit Broadway musicals such as Hello, Dolly!, The Phantom of the Opera, My Fair Lady, and South Pacific.
Besides providing background information about how Hamilton made its way to Broadway, this article also addresses the life and contributions of Alexander Hamilton as a Founding Father of the United States and information about Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. See the sidebar “Alexander Hamilton” for background about one of the United States’ Founding Fathers and the sidebar “Lin-Manuel Miranda” for background about the creator and star of Hamilton. The Activities and Learning Scenarios section provides teachers with ideas to use with their students.
Activities and Learning Scenarios
Hamilton can be used to engage students in several ways. Consider learning styles when planning activities and projects. Visual students can create videos, make posters or storyboards, create comic strips, draw, or paint. Auditory students can create or perform songs, produce radio shows, do interviews, produce plays, do demonstrations, make sound recordings, or put on concerts. Kinesthetic students can create plays and dances, create puzzles, design collages, create mosaics or quilts, and create and manipulate puppets. Combining all three is especially helpful for the small population that learns through all three modes.
Habits of Mind, an educational framework of 16 life skills described by Costa and Kallick, can be analyzed related to Hamilton. For example, the first habit of mind, persisting, can be explored in terms of Hamilton’s life and accomplishments and Miranda’s six-year commitment to creating Hamilton.
The following learning scenarios, designed to use concepts, themes, and music from Hamilton, can be expedited using the “Resources” sidebar to support a Hamilton integration. Even if your students cannot attend a performance of Hamilton, many educators utilize the cast album released in September and October 2015 in downloadable and CD formats to integrate Hamilton into student learning. The scenarios include various related subjects, reading, researching, writing, and creativity. Students can work alone, in small groups, or a class depending on the activity. Scenarios can be tailored to the appropriate grade level and can be differentiated to accommodate student ability levels.
Alexander Hamilton Students learn about the life of Alexander Hamilton and all that he contributed to the founding of the U.S. Students can use the Hamilton songs to help guide them in their research. Students can create a variety of projects such as a timeline, an illustrated biography, an oral presentation, or an original song that focuses on one aspect of Hamilton’s life.
Conflict Resolution Students can explore conflict within the plot of Hamilton. They can consider personal and political conflict in their analysis. Which songs illustrate these two types of conflict?
A New York State of Mind To provide a geographical context, students can explore New York, especially Manhattan, because of Hamilton’s residence and influence there. Various project types can be assigned to encourage students to learn more about the Big Apple: a tour booklet, the history of Manhattan PowerPoint, a New York commemorative stamp set, or a New York calendar to name a few.
The History/Music Connection Hamilton can be used for interdisciplinary learning and could even be a co-taught cross department lesson or unit. A colleague in history could shed light on Alexander Hamilton’s role in the early colonies and a music teacher can enlighten history students through the Hamilton music. A focus on Colonial America would be particularly fruitful.
Broadway within U.S. Culture The Broadway theater district in the Manhattan borough of New York City is globally revered for musical theater. Students can learn about Broadway musicals through the years. Besides Hamilton, what other musicals are currently running on Broadway? Hamilton is staged at the Richard Rodgers Theater. Find out more about Rodgers’ legendary musicals, especially with Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein II.
Historical Musicals Hamilton teaches us about history. Research other musicals that illustrate history such as 1776, Les Miserables, Annie Get Your Gun, Oklahoma!, and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.
Biographical Musicals Hamilton provides a biographical treatment of Alexander Hamilton. Learn about other biographical musicals such as The Sound of Music, Barnum, Evita, and The Unsinkable Molly Brown and others.
That’s a Rap and Hip Hop Miranda uses rap music and hip hop for several Hamilton songs. Analyze these songs and describe why you believe these were written as raps or in hop-hop instead of as traditional Broadway show tunes.
Lin-Manuel Miranda Musicals Besides Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda created In the Heights on Broadway in 2008. He also wrote some Spanish lyrics for a Broadway revival of West Side Story and has worked in other media. Learn more about Miranda’s background. What life experiences and education led him to where he is today?
The Hamilton Score The Hamilton score is eclectic, blending rap, hip hop, traditional Broadway, and R&B. Why do you believe that Miranda combined varying musical styles? Express your opinion but support your views with specific examples from the score.
Music of Hamilton’s Era The musical styles during the late 1700s and early 1800s differ from modern music as featured in Hamilton. What genres of live music did people enjoy during Hamilton’s lifetime? Chamber music? Choral music? Classical music? Opera?
Listen Up Students listen to one or more songs from the Hamilton cast album and learn about history through music. Consider “You’ll Be Back,” “Hurricane,” and “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story.” Students can work with song lyrics as follows:
Which character or characters perform the song?
The position of the song within the two acts of Hamilton.
How the song develops the plot and teaches about history.
The musical style of the song (traditional Broadway show tune, rap, hip hop, R&B).
What emotions the song evokes.
Hamilton Mixtape Students listen to songs on The Hamilton Mixtape recording and compare them to the Hamilton cast album. Students can learn about one or more artist featured on the Mixtape recording. Students can perform one song from the Mixtape alone or with others with or without accompaniment.
Reading and Musical Adaptations Students read excerpts from Chernow’s book Alexander Hamilton and gain insights into the process of adapting a book into a stage musical. Students could choose one excerpt or section and explain how it is rendered in the musical adaptation.
Habits of Mind Costa and Kallick (2009) describes the 16 Habits of Mind. Using Hamilton, which Habits of Mind can be fostered? Habit #1 “Persisting” can be illustrated by all that Hamilton had to do to accomplish his brilliant vision of the U.S. Mint. It can also be explored by tracing the six-year period that it took Miranda to complete the Hamilton music, lyrics, and book.
Hamilton Quilt Students explore one topic from Hamilton, an historical event, a song, or an historic figure, and create a quilt panel comprised of text and artwork. This quilt can be done traditionally using fabric and fabric markers or using technology. The final quilt can be displayed for the entire school to see.
Hamilton has not only made a huge splash in the entertainment world; educators have embraced this award-winning musical by designing lessons and units that use its concepts and music. Many learning scenarios are possible that can enhance the music curriculum. Try one or more idea with your own students and tap into your students’ creativity as well as your own by turning the phenomenal Hamilton into an opportunity for interdisciplinary learning.
Keith Mason, Ph.D. teaches world languages and cultures at New Providence High School. He received eight Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Awards for Outstanding Educational Impact for integrating musicals into the high school curriculum. Dr. Mason has authored numerous articles about musicals in the curriculum and is currently writing a book entitled Musicals Across the Curriculum: Interdisciplinary Pathways to Learning.
Chronology of Hamilton: An American Musical
- Ron Chernow publishes his biography Alexander Hamilton
- Lin-Manuel Miranda reads Chernow’s Hamilton biography while on vacation
- Inspired by Chernow’s book, Miranda writes a rap about Alexander Hamilton that eventually becomes the song “Alexander Hamilton” that he performs at the White House as part of their Evening of Poetry, Music and the Spoken Word
- Miranda works on the Hamilton music, lyrics, and book. The project starts out very slowly and takes six years from concept to debut.
- Hamilton opens at The Public Theater, an off-Broadway venue, for previews on January 20 and officially on February 17
- Hamilton moves to the Richard Rodgers Theater, a Broadway venue, on July 13 for previews and officially on August 6, and plays to sellout crowds
- The Hamilton cast album receives a Grammy Award on February 15 for Best Musical Theater Album
- Lin-Manuel Miranda receives the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Hamilton on April 18 (one of nine musicals to win the award)
Hamilton is nominated for a record 16 Tony Awards on May 3
- On June 12, Hamilton receives 11 Tony Awards including Best Musical and Best Original Score
Hamilton opens at the PrivateBank Theatre in Chicago on October 19
- The National Tour of Hamilton begins in San Francisco in March and continues to Los Angeles, Seattle, Houston, and Washington, D.C. with other cities to be added
- Hamilton is slated to open in London’s West End in the fall