This Is Not a Game: Perfectionism and “Satisfied” from Hamilton: An American Music

In which Angelica Schyuler triangulates three fundamental truths at the exact same time.

satisfied

To my dear reader,

Like many other musicians/Americans/living organisms, I have jumped on the Hamilton bandwagon. Honestly, I don’t know the international phenomenon of a Broadway show about the U.S. founding fathers as well as some, and I certainly can’t rap the whole thing off the top of my head. I can’t even rap individual songs. Maybe bits. Poorly. Regardless, I enjoy the original cast recording enormously, and after several months, I have come to see the show’s music as – in its own way – perfect.

Admittedly, perfection is a big claim, but listening to the music reveals a dazzling clarity of organization in Lin Manuel Mirnada’s songwriting and Alex Lacamoire’s orchestrations. From the use of rapping to signify revolutionary thought to the use of musical motifs for different characters’ names, the show’s highly unlikely premise – a hip-hop musical about the creation of the U.S.A. – is realized with astounding precision. There are undoubtedly weaker songs and musical moments, but the overall effect is nearly flawless to me, and this is well demonstrated in the song “Satisfied.”

Sung as an internal monologue during a wedding toast, the song is performed by Angelica Schyuler to her newlywed sister, Eliza, and new brother-in-law, Alexander Hamilton. With the running C minor pentatonic scale sown throughout the song, and with Angelica acting as the only woman in the show revolutionary enough to permit her to rap, the song paints a vivid picture of a brilliant woman constrained by society in a swift five-and-a-half minutes. Its emotional and musical arc make it like a miniature musical itself, and listening to it reminds me of why I love writing and composing: the chance at perfection.

Against my will, I am a perfectionist through and through. I want to be good and noble and worthy. I want to stop being angry at myself and the world for failing my standards. I am aware, however, of the unfortunate, self-defeating nature of perfectionism: I will be happy if everything is perfect, but nothing will ever be perfect, so I will never be happy. So much of life is imperfect and transient – friendships I’ve had, concerts I’ve performed in, groups I’ve been involved with – but not written words or music. When I write or compose, I can mull and mold until I am absolutely satisfied with what I’ve made, and no matter what anyone thinks or does with my creation, it exists beyond them – effectively, permanent and perfect.

Not that I think anything I’ve made is perfect. But I do take pride in much of my writing and music, and unlike a friendship, or a performance, or a group, what I’ve put down is set in stone. Admittedly, expecting that from a friendship or a performance or a group is unhealthy and illogical, but that’s exactly what I like so much about writing and composing – I can create something precise, premeditated, permanent, and, if not perfect, will leave me satisfied.

With all due respect,

Daniel Wolfert

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