In the past year Travis and I have listened to the Hamilton sound track from start to finish at least 20 times. That’s over 48 hours of Hamiltonian immersion.
That may seem excessive to some, but when you consider that the majority of that time was spent in the car driving 3.5 hours round trip from our house to the Wilmot Cancer Center in Rochester, it doesn’t seem so bad.
Plus, Hamilton is awesome so that makes it okay too.
I have always been a theater person and a road trip show-tune-singer, but Broadway car karaoke is a totally new thing for Travis. While he has warmed to most of my hobbies in our nearly a decade of life together, listening to show tunes and attending live musical theater had remained things that he seemingly did for me instead of truly with me…until I introduced him to Hamilton. His love of history and his hatred for Thomas Jefferson (no, seriously, ask me about it) were enough to set the hook and within a few songs he was fully invested in the story and the music.
As I looked for ways to help Travis improve his speech and communication challenges over the past several months, I found another excuse to keep Hamilton on repeat. It was suggested to us while Travis was still recovering from brain surgery that consuming language was one of the best ways to help him regain the words he had lost. Just like children who acquire language skills through listening to conversations, adults with brain injuries need to hear words in order to relearn them. Luckily for Travis I like to talk, but even I can’t talk all of the time (as much as I may try). Thankfully Hamilton did not heed Burr’s advice to “talk less,” and has stepped in to fill the occasional silent gap I leave.
The Hamilton soundtrack is packed full of words. At an average of 144 words per minute it is the wordiest show in musical theater history. Better still, the words are rich and challenging which means he’s consuming quantity and quality at the same time when he listens to the songs. Others may claim to have “the best words,” but Hamilton truly does (believe me).
There may not be a scientific way to measure the impact that listening to the music from this show has had on Travis, but I will say I heard him articulately alliterate the phrase “venerated Virginian veteran” long before he was able to name all of the days of the week and well before he could spell his own name. And the first time he confidently counted to ten after his third brain surgery, it was the ten dual commandments he was reciting.
I have always been an advocate for the arts–even dedicating my career to creating learning experiences in informal education spaces like museums–but if I ever needed convincing that the arts and humanities contribute far more to our society than cultural engagement, Travis would be my proof. Rebuilding his brain and cognitive function began with surgery and medicine, but it will continue and flourish because of literature, music and art.