Inside the Music with Hamilton Music Director and Orchestrator Alex Lacamoire

Interview with Hamilton Music Director Alex Lacamoire

Alex Lacamoire is an award-winning arranger, conductor, musical director, music copyist, and orchestrator who has become one of the biggest names in contemporary musical theater. He has won both Grammy Awards and Tony Awards for his work on shows including Dear Evan Hansen, In the Heights, and Hamilton, working alongside close friend Lin-Manuel Miranda on the latter two projects. He also won a Grammy as Executive Producer of The Greatest Showman soundtrack and an Emmy for his musical direction of television miniseries Fosse/Verdon.

With the critically-acclaimed and Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Hamilton making its screen debut on Disney+ July 3rd, we caught up with Alex to discuss his work on the hit production, as well as learning more about his musical journey, and what he's working on next.

Download the official sheet music from Hamilton: An American Musical arranged for piano, voice, guitar, ukulele, violin, choir, band, and more.

Interview with Hamilton music director Alex Lacamoire

   Before I could speak, before I knew words, there was something about music that I just felt connected to."

Sheet Music Direct ("S"): Hey Alex, great to meet you. Thank you for making the time today.

Alex Lacamoire ("A"): Thank you, it's my pleasure. It's fun to chat details and music-nerdery!

S: Your bio says you began playing piano at the age of four, which is absolutely incredible. What inspired you to begin playing at such an early age? And what kept you interested in learning and playing more music as you grew older?

A: I think I've always had a fascination with music. My cousin tells me that I used to stare into the speakers of the stereo when I was a kid at two years old. So, clearly, there was something about music that was calling me.

I started playing a toy piano that was given to me. I played it a lot—so much so that my parents decided to get me lessons, and it all just snowballed from there. I think for whatever reason, before I could even speak, before I knew words, there was something about music that I just felt connected to, and it's been that way ever since.

S: That's phenomenal. Fast-forwarding a little to when you began your studies at Berklee College of Music, did you ever envision you'd have so many musical opportunities (arranger, orchestrator, executive music producer, etc.) after you graduated?

A: You know, it's interesting. I always hoped that I would get those kinds of jobs—arranging or orchestrating and that kind of stuff—but didn't necessarily think it was going to be in theater.

When I was at Berklee, there wasn't a very strong curriculum for theater, but it was always part of my history because I grew up playing Broadway in junior high school and high school. Even in college, I would pay for lessons at the Boston Conservatory of music, which had a strong theater program. While I was studying jazz and arranging and all that stuff, I was kind of getting theater education just by doing it. Not necessarily by studying it in a classroom, but just by doing it. So that was really amazing.

Then, right before I moved to New York, I started getting more and more work doing theater, and I realized that was paying bills for me! The more calls I got, the more opportunities that provided. In that way, it kind of fell in my lap as opposed to me really seeking it out.

S: Very cool. You're involved in so many areas of music production—writing, creating, arranging, orchestrating, etc. Do you have a favorite amongst all of those?

A: It really depends on the project. Sometimes all I want to do is play the piano. Sometimes I'm very happy to be in the studio control room giving feedback, suggesting ideas, and being in charge of the session. There are other times that you don't want to be anywhere but at home creating and mapping out how a song goes—the orchestrations, the arrangements, and putting it into notation. So, it all depends on what the project is and what about the project inspired me to do whatever it is I'm doing at that moment.

S: Shifting gears to Hamilton. Can you tell us more about the first time you became aware of Hamilton? When was that? What was your initial reaction to the music and the story?

   That's a mark of Lin being a genius. Something that was very natural for him just flowed out of him even if no one else was able to see where it went."

A: Lin told me about Hamilton when he got back from vacation, where he had read about things that he said he was inspired by. He said "there's hip hop in this book." He read about some of the founding fathers and made analogies to some of his favorite hip-hop artists. Clearly Lin saw a connection that no one had seen prior to him. And he was able to fuse these genres together—hip-hop, musical theater, and American history.

But the first time he presented it to me it seemed so outlandish, you know? It's not necessarily something you think to yourself as you're reading your history book. I picture 2Pac there, or a hot sixteen over there. That's not what you're thinking about!

I knew that it was verbally exciting. I'm like, wow, the way Lin-Manuel was compressing the story down into just a few minutes—the rhymes are great and, musically speaking, it's really exciting. But I didn't quite see what he was seeing. And that's a mark of Lin being a genius. Something that was very natural for him just flowed out of him even if no one else was able to see where it went.

   I'm trying to serve a story. Whether it's for musical theater or a pop song, what's the energy that you want the song to give off?"

S: You've received multiple Tony Awards for your outstanding orchestrations, one of those for Hamilton. Can you talk about the arranging and orchestration process? What are you typically given as a starting point and where do you go from there?

A: It depends. I sometimes have a starting point of nothing but someone just vocalizing an idea and singing into the air. Other times you get a fully-realized demo that you know exactly where they want to go. Other times you get sheet music with just a basic piano part. And sometimes the composer will give you all three options at once. So it all depends on what you're getting at the time.

From there I tend to go pretty organically about it. Obviously, you want to use your imagination and try to see what new sounds you can craft and create. But generally speaking, I'm trying to serve a story—an image, a feel, a vibe. Whether it's for musical theater or whether it's for a pop song, what's the energy that you want the song to give off? What's your communication that is behind the moment? And the rest will take care of itself.

S: That is amazing insight. Talking about Hamilton the film, what was it like translating the stage production and music of Hamilton to film?

A: Well, fortunately, we didn't have to do anything because the film is a live capture of a performance. So, we were essentially doing what we were doing each week at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, which is performing our show. The only difference was that for a couple of performances they had nine cameras around, so we all knew that we were being recorded.

We all knew that it was going to be considered the "definitive version" of the show, so we wanted it to be as good a performance as possible. What's interesting is that it's not just one performance of the show. If the cameras had been there two days later, it would've been a different performance. If they'd have been there six months earlier or six months later, it wouldn't be the same. But you know what's good is that by the time the cameras came, we had been doing a show for over a year and we'd grown into the show. There was a comfort level in the performance of it that allowed us to really just be and give a good performance. That was our goal.

   The people in the audience were people who just happened to buy tickets. It's as if you were in the theater that night."

S: So the film is just a combination of a couple performances. Is that correct?

A: Yes, exactly. A combination of a Sunday matinee and a Tuesday evening with a live audience. And it wasn't like we said "hey, come watch the filming of Hamilton." The people in the audience were people who just happened to buy tickets and be there. So yeah, it's as if you were in the theater that night.

S: Outside of work, when you have time to kick back and play piano at your leisure, what have you been playing lately?

A: Oh, good question. My go-to is usually Chopin, some nocturnes. I also played some Bach Inventions recently and Ignacio Cervantes, who's a Cuban composer. Then I'll sit down and play a Broadway song and maybe a pop song as well.

There's something in me that goes back to my roots, where I would just sit down and try to interpret music that was already written down and learn from it.

S: That's awesome, we appreciate that. What are you working on next that we can look forward to?

A: We're putting the finishing touches on the In the Heights movie. We were in the middle of finishing that before the pandemic and the shutdown. Hopefully we'll be able to tie a bow on that and wrap it up sometime soon, but the movie is not coming out until next year.

I was getting the Hamilton film ready because that kind of snuck up on us in terms of when it was being released. So, I spent a couple weeks putting the finishing touches on the sound for that. I've been helping out with trailers for the movie and the Jimmy Fallon performance.

I think I've been pretty active even during a shutdown, which has been nice because it keeps me active creatively. So, I am grateful for that too.

S: That's fantastic. I saw the Fallon performance and it was such a nice organic arrangement, so well put together. So cheerful too.

A: Right, it made me happy just watching it, so I'm glad you enjoyed it.

S: Thank you so much for your time and your insights. We know our community of musicians worldwide will really appreciate this and we can't wait to watch Hamilton this weekend with the rest of the world.

A: No problem. And I hope you enjoy it when you see it!

The original Broadway Production of Hamilton is available to stream now, exclusively on Disney+. Watch the show, listen to the soundtrack, and play the music today.

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