Spoiler Alert: This article references several well-documented historical events that are dramatized in “Hamilton: The Musical” and give parts of the plot away.
The music of “Hamilton” is bombastic and exhilarating, an over-the-top score filled with chest-pounding battle anthems that immortalize the Founding Father’s fight with the British, and later their own battles with each other. “Hamilton’s” second act is full of spirited debates between Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr that expose the men’s strange system for settling scores — when a compromise can’t be reached, they shoot at each other.
I’m speaking about the duel, that most peculiar institution in this country which turns benign arguments into matters of life and death. In its most basic form, the dual is two armed men facing off, waiting for a signal from a third party to begin firing at each other. The person who doesn’t die essentially wins — sort of. Aaron Burr calls duels “dumb and immature” in the first act of “Hamilton” and says it’s “absurd” that someone should pay for a mistake with their life.
Ultimately, Burr’s pleas fall on deaf ears, kicking off a series of senseless gun fights that weave their way through the musical’s story line, slowly eroding the glory of violence. Eventually, Hamilton’s son makes the mistake of engaging in the deadly gambit and ultimately pays for his pridefulness with his life.
It’s a devastating moment for Hamilton and his wife Eliza, but the pain of their loss results in one of the musical’s most beautiful songs, “It’s Quiet Uptown.” The song begins with a simple, yet lonely piano melody, written and performed each night by the show’s musical director Alex Lacamoire.
“It’s an achingly beautiful song,” he told Amplify during a May interview, explaining that the song’s melody can be intimidating to play — one mistake and it’s easily noticed by most of the audience. Playing “one of Lin-Manuel’s most perfect songs,” he explains, leaves him a “little bit more exposed.”
“Up until he had written it, we knew that the son died and I remember thinking, ‘How the hell do we get out of this?'” he told Amplify. “It turns out we convey the tragedy with this beautiful song about not having the words to express something so painful.”
“It’s Quiet Uptown” is a song about how death changes the people it leaves behind, about how we try to find meaning in the pain of loss and most importantly, how that pain changes us. In my favorite passage from the song, Alexander Hamilton explains how he never considered himself a spiritual person, but after the death of his son, he begins to re-examine his own relationship with religion.
I take the children to church on Sunday
I make the sign of the cross at the door
And I pray….
That never used to happen before.
Modern psychologists argue that grief unveils itself in multiple stages, but “It’s Quiet Uptown” is not a song about denial, anger or even acceptance. It is a song about sadness, that terrible stage of grief where we process tragedy and begin to prepare our hearts for a lifetime without the person we love.
By brilliantly revisiting musical hooks from earlier in the story, “It’s Quiet Uptown,” reminds us how memory plays an important role in the grieving process. Just as the main musical themes of the play return for “Non-Stop,” the final song of Act 1, they too return for “It’s Quiet Uptown,” but with a more deliberate cadence and gentler arrangement. After enduring two hours or war, infighting and senseless violence, writer Lin-Manuel Miranda gives the audience a much needed moment to exhale and process senseless violence. How do Alexander and his wife Eliza finally overcome such a terrible loss? According to one of the final stanzas of the song, they never come to terms with the killing, nor do they let it continue to devastate them. Simply put, they endure the pain. And they endure it together.
They are standing in the garden
Alexander by Eliza’s side.
She takes his hand….
It’s Quiet Uptown.