‘Hamilton’ music director hosts master class for students

Composer and music director Alex Lacamoire, center, met with students at the Frost School of Music during a master class on Nov. 11. Photo: Matthew Rembold/University of Miami
By Jenny Hudak

Composer and music director Alex Lacamoire, center, met with students at the Frost School of Music during a master class on Nov. 11. Photo: Matthew Rembold/University of Miami

‘Hamilton’ music director hosts master class for students

By Jenny Hudak
Best known for his groundbreaking work on Broadway hits “Hamilton” and “In the Heights,” renowned orchestrator, composer, and music director Alex Lacamoire hosted a master class at the Frost School of Music on Nov. 11.

Best known for his groundbreaking work on Broadway productions “Hamilton,” “In the Heights,” “Wicked,” and “Dear Evan Hansen,” renowned arranger, orchestrator, composer, and music director Alex Lacamoire’s work has redefined the sound of Broadway.  

Last Friday, hundreds of students from the University of Miami Frost School of Music got a front-row seat to listen to the award-winning insights of the musician during a master class at the Maurice Gusman Concert Hall.  

As a music director and orchestrator, Lacamoire is a four-time Grammy winner, three-time Tony winner, and Emmy award winner for his work. In 2018, he and his “Hamilton” colleagues—including Broadway innovator, Lin-Manuel Miranda—were the recipients of a joint Kennedy Center Honor as trailblazing creators for their work on the American musical phenomenon that broke ground in the theater world. “Hamilton” earned 16 Tony nominations in 2016, the most for a single show in Broadway history.  

Lacamoire came to the University to discuss his approach to creating an experimental style of hip-hop and pop music for Broadway, shared his stories and experience as a music director, and offered advice to students looking to break into the industry. The session opened with a panel discussion, which, along with Lacamoire, included Frost School assistant professors Daniel Strange, Raina Murnak, Jeffrey Buchman, and lecturer Laura Sherman. 

The session opened with a panel discussion, which, along with Lacamoire, included Frost School assistant professors Daniel Strange, Raina Murnak, Jeffrey Buchman, and lecturer Laura Sherman. 
Alex Lacamoire, center, on stage with Raina Murnak, Daniel Strange, Laura Sherman and Jeffrey Buchman.

During the conversation, Lacamoire discussed the origin of his passion for music at a young age and his deep ties to South Florida. Lacamoire, a Cuban American, moved to Miami from Los Angeles in 1984 at 9 years old, and he attended the New World School of the Arts as a teenager. 

“My memories at the time are just being so consumed by music in a way that was bordering on obsession. I will say that I think that is what always fueled me. It was just this belief that music was what I was meant to do,” he said. 

In addition to his credits on Broadway hit shows, Lacamoire’s recent endeavors as a musical maestro include the motion pictures “The Greatest Showman” and “Vivo.” He also recently was tapped to work as the musical supervisor of a Broadway revival of the production, “Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.” 

During the panel, he recalled the first time he saw the musical as a teenager—a 1990 Frost School production of the show at the Gusman Concert Hall. 

The panelists asked Lacamoire for his foresight on the direction of Broadway’s musical sound, noting that his compositions have been revolutionary to the landscape of musical theater and his approach to the use of rhythm in his arrangements.  

“I think all of us would agree, you have been part of really redefining the sound of what Broadway could be,” Buchman said during the discussion. “I think for so many of us, and these young musicians here, you have created an environment where, I believe and they now believe, that the new sounds they hear can find a place [on Broadway]. And they do not have to fit into an existing model. They can redefine the model.” 

Lacamoire went on to share personal anecdotes from his career, including his time spent as a music director on “Wicked” alongside Sherman, who was a harpist for the original Broadway production.  

She pointed out how Lacamoire’s attention to rhythm, feeling a beat, and use of knowledge of different genres of music, fused with a classical music approach, is important for students to understand as they create and perform their own music, something she encourages them to do in the classroom.  

“Not only is he known as being a brilliant and diverse musician, but what you might not know is he is also one of the most positive, kindest, and most considerate people in the business,” Sherman said. “[He] and Lin-Manuel just raise the bar for being kind to others.” 

Before welcoming student performers to the stage, Lacamoire gave students a glimpse into his creative and collaborative process. He highlighted his relationship with Miranda, with whom he has worked on major projects including “In the Heights,” “Hamilton,” and most recently, “Vivo.”  

On stage with photo behind showing Lin Manuel

“When I’m working with Lin-Manuel, there’s a level of trust there,” he said. He went on to recount a time during the rehearsal process of “Hamilton” when the director, Thomas Kail, advised Lacamoire to revisit a song in the show he had orchestrated. Lacamoire noted to the audience that trusting his collaborators, and their process, allows him to perfect the output of his music. 

“If you trust your collaborators, just know they have the interest of the show in mind. They have a bigger picture. If something isn’t hitting the bullseye, just be careful when you’re going to dig in your heels and say, ‘No, no, no—this is my song, and this is how I wrote it, and this is how it’s going to be,’ ” he said. 

“In theater, and in the world that I work in—whether it’s theater or film—that kind of malleability is so important,” he added. “To be able to write a song, rewrite the lyrics, rewrite the cut, or scrap the song entirely and write a new one, you have to trust that you’re going to be able to come up with something else that is going to suit the moment better, something else that is going to feel more ‘right’ for the moment.”

Following the panel discussion, four Frost School students—Daniel Fiamengo, Sydney Altbacker, Chad Nelson, and Zoe Argabright—performed a variety of musical pieces for Lacamoire. 

Zoe Argabright, a student studying music therapy, performing “Why Not Me?” from the musical “Carrie.”
Zoe Argabright, a student studying music therapy, performed “Why Not Me?” from the musical “Carrie.”

Altbacker, a senior studying music theory composition, performed an original song she wrote, accompanied by her classmate, Robert Grande, a junior studying music engineering, on the piano. 

“It felt really great,” she said. “I write for myself to release myself. Being able to share it with someone who understands the craft so intimately and does so much work in the field was so incredible.”

Nelson, a senior studying music business, performed an original rap song he wrote. He said he uses his songwriting to overcome hardships in life. He began journaling at a young age. His writing translated into poetry and eventually songwriting, which he performed during the master class. 

“[Lacamoire]’s done so many incredible things. It’s extremely humbling to be here and have this opportunity,” Nelson said. “Being able to see his collaborations and how he’s been able to take rap and hip-hop and tie it into musicals and Broadway really shows how limitless the opportunities are for any musician to be able to translate what they make to fit into any sector of the industry.” 

Lacamoire gave the students high marks. “I know it’s a very nerve-wracking thing to get up in front of anyone and perform anything, particularly original music. I know how vulnerable a place that is and to put yourself out there in the world like that. I was very impressed with all that you did, all that you sang, and all you created,” he told them. 

To conclude the event, he returned to the stage for a question-and-answer opportunity with the students. One by one, attendees got to ask him about how he uses music as a voice for change, the role he plays in the final engineering and mastering of his musical pieces, and how to prepare themselves for life after college.  

Regan Pilgrim, a second-year master’s student in French horn performance, has been following Lacamoire’s career since 2016 when she discovered “Hamilton.” The musician from Texas left the event inspired. 

“It was so cool to see him interact with our faculty and students, and the advice that he gave us is so invaluable,” she said.