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  • Writer's pictureSteve

"Why do you all like Burn So Much?"

I don't know the show Hamilton very well. I haven't seen it. Not yet. But I will (although the first time I watch it will undoubtedly be on Disney+ and whether I should let that be my first watching is a debate for another time!)

I have the double CD and the vocal selections but have not yet devoted the sit-down and listen time to fully appreciate it. I do like what I have heard in Act 1/CD1. But when you ask people what songs they like from Hamilton, "Burn" is one of the most popular. It's not in Act1/CD1 so I was yet to hear what Burn was. I have now listened to it...

"Why do you all like Burn So Much?"

It's boring, right? The same chords repeated over and over with the whiny vocal lead over a broken chord/arpeggiated piano. A lyric that seems to rest in the middle/on the fence between narrative and emotion; refusing to commit to what the song really is? The song (at the moment) doesn't touch me. And let me remind you as a HUGE disclaimer: I haven't seen the show yet.

(This is important to remember because as Paige explained whilst trying to convince me the song is good:

"It's the only song I feel where there is nothing else happening on the stage. It's literally just her and that never really happens in the show; there's always so much happening. Also, all the other songs are rap and upbeat and it just separates it."

Having not seen the show, I simply cannot comment on the impact the song's contrast to the rest of the material in Hamilton has on me like she can. She has seen the show and felt something with the clear change in musical style and staging. This is a great argument and I can't wait for my opinion to be changed when I watch the show and hopefully feel what she felt.

But... out of context? Is the song a good song? Is it worthy of our appreciation? Let's look for reasons to like the song with musical reasons to back it up.

Let's look at the opening musical motif:

(Before we go any further... LOOK at the musical marking at the top: "icy" - Love this. "Hey Steve... can you play this a little more ...icy?" I have no idea what that means...)

Miranda creates a very simple motif. Simple music to listeners is generally a good thing because it allows us to understand the music. It isn't complex and it isn't intimidating. Moreover, this simplicity would be inviting because it sounds somewhat safe and naive; childlike and innocent, maybe. (Maybe except that the the notes of the chord are in a minor key; it denotes sadness/darkness.) The music is also quite relaxing at this point because of the rise and fall of the piano riff: up and down and up and down. This creates a lilt in the music that is almost like the rhythmic rocking of a cradle or the washing of the waves upon a beach. It's very easy, (when repeated, and oh look it IS repeated) to be hypnotised by this rhythmically regular and repeating melody. Add to this the solo harp orchestration and we immediately tune into any haunting and vulnerable feelings that might be portrayed. And further to this, Miranda gives us a sense of urgency in this little riff by repeating just the descending part of the lilt towards the end:

By losing the ascending (first) half of the motif, we effectively speed up the feeling (the tempo does not change. it's a feeling thing) and create tension because here - right here - it is unresolved; the music has not done what we expected; it hasn't repeated the music from the first few bars. And actually, this is melodic interest and development. Well done Miranda... well done.

You still with me? This is just bars 1-4. Eliza ain't even sang yet.

Bar 5 onwards tomorrow...


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