‘They identify with Hamilton’: Philly teens take a shot at writing revolution-inspired music

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Northeast High School students Anna Tran, Tatyanna Roldan and Jovita Deguzman perform

Northeast High School students Anna Tran, Tatyanna Roldan and Jovita Deguzman perform "My Favorite Federalist Papers." (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The phenomenal success of Hamilton, the musical, has given birth to an entire shorthand language on social media. HamFans are fans of Hamilton. Ham4Ham is the name of the daily lottery to buy Hamilton tickets for $10. (Get it? Hamilton’s face is on the ten-dollar bill.)

There’s also EduHam, a curriculum for high school students that tries to make history as exciting as the Broadway play itself.

 Thursday, 1,700 high school students packed the Forrest Theater in Philadelphia to see a matinee performance of Hamilton. But first, they performed their own original works for each other.

“Since I was a little girl, I’ve been the drama queen,” said Jalyn Tabourn, a senior at Franklin Learning Center in Spring Garden.  

Together with two of her friends, Tabourn co-wrote an R&B song called “No Fear, Paul Revere”. For their performance, Tabourn, Jalen Johnson and Shimirah Jordan dressed in military fatigues and sang from the perspective of colonial soldiers waiting for a signal from Revere that the British were crossing Boston Harbor.

Franklin Learning Center students Shamirah Jordan, Jalyn Tabourn and Jalen Johnson perform “No Fear, Paul Revere,” an original work they created as part of their social studies curriculum. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

While writing the song, they tried to imagine what the soldiers must have been feeling. 

“Bullets flying. Every day it’s a different battle,” Tabourn said. 

The song came out of an educational program that mimics the songwriting style of Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of Hamilton. High school students were given access to an online database of historic documents from the era of Hamilton, created by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

Project manager Amy DiChristina said students could choose whatever document resonated with them personally, then create a song, rap, poem or ballet based on it.

“Students were doing pieces about Crispus Attucks, relating it to gun violence that happens in their neighborhood. They identify with Hamilton and his orphan story, students who have lost a parent,” DiChristina said. “Everything that happened in the founding era, we think is so far away, but the students are really finding a way to connect with it.” 

Fifteen student works were selected to be performed onstage at the Forrest Theater, for an audience of their peers, followed by a Hamilton performance. The student’s each pay a substantially reduced ticket price, just $10, subsidized by local philanthropic foundations.  

Three seniors at the High School of Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA), wrote a rap about the Boston Tea Party. One of them, Blaze Mann, was impressed by how average people could affect historic change.

“They’re just everyday guys. They came together and thought it through and did it,” he said. “The guts and intelligence it takes to get a few hundred men to go to the harbor and toss tea, all under cover of night, it’s just crazy to me.”

New Foundations Charter School students Terrell Woodward, Kimi Li and Angelina Jala perform “The Tea Spilled.” (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Thirty-seven Philadelphia schools participated in the program. The education program follows the touring productions of Hamilton, but not all school districts participate in the curriculum. DiChristina said the Gilder Lehrman Institute only introduces the program in cities with a high concentration of Title I schools, which received federal funding for low-income students.

It also depends on logistics and scheduling. Wrangling nearly 2,000 teenagers in and out of a downtown theater, taking over the entire building, might be a logistical maneuver on par with the American Revolution.

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