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"How on earth did you get interested in opera?" Common app essay (option 4)

Aemilia 1 / 4  
Aug 27, 2009   #1
Hi! I would greatly appreciate any feedback on my first college application essay, responding to this prompt:
"Describe a character in fiction, historical figure, or creative work (as in art, music, science, etc.) that has had an influence on you, and explain that influence."


I would love a critique of the college essay I hope to submit in a few weeks. Specifically, is this essay too long? Too informal? Too wordy?

Thanks so much for your help!

"How on earth did you get interested in opera?" The woman sitting next to me in the orthodontist waiting room looked bemused but genuinely interested. I marked my place in Newman's massive The Wagner Operas, and smiled. Despite current appearances, my experience with Classical music consisted entirely of a few pleasant but mildly boring piano sonatas until the April I turned sixteen. And opera? I entertained the usual stereotypes. That spring, however, I decided to spend my birthday money on a college course on music appreciation. The lectures would give me something new and interesting to study over the summer. Plus, the secret snob in me figured, a little casual knowledge of Classical music would contribute greatly to my intellectual repertoire. Little did I know those CDs would spark a passion for Classical music, and an enduring respect for possibly the world's most underappreciated art form: opera.

It certainly wasn't the singing side of opera that initially drew me in. During my first "real" live performance a few months later, I felt like covering my ears during the soprano arias. Singing that high could not be healthy. Nevertheless, the foreign language aspect immediately captivated me, and fit in perfectly with my pre-existing interest in Greek and Latin. Perhaps above all, however, I was intrigued by the concept behind the art itself. According to its creators, a late-16th century group of amateur scholars and musicians, opera captured individual human expression through the seamless marriage of music, poetry, and dramatic action. As a cutting-edge and thrilling new art form, opera sparked nearly as much controversy as local politics well into the 19th century. If nothing else, I found it all absolutely fascinating from a historical perspective.

Earlier that summer, I found myself at a used book and music sale. At the bottom of a cardboard box, I discovered my first opera CD. It did not matter that I had never heard of either the composer (Richard Wagner) or the title (Das Rheingold)-the word "opera" on the plastic case was enough for me. Three dollars later it was mine, and I sat down to listen that afternoon. Despite an interesting storyline and possibly the neatest orchestral prelude I had ever heard, I cannot remember feeling particularly impressed. What on earth were those singers taking so long to say? Nevertheless, that evening I blithely put it on over supper, to the collective groans of the extended family visiting at the time. Much later, I realized to my exceeding embarrassment that Wagner was anything but "dinner music."

After that first try, Das Rheingold remained untouched on my shelf. Meanwhile I read, listened, and volunteered at every local Classical performance, still inexplicably intrigued. A few months later I picked "Music as a Reflection of Society" for the title of a huge research paper-and treated my patient family to a mini lecture series of my own. Historians, I soon learned, considered Wagner one of most advanced operatic composers. The library ladies set aside "easier" opera CDs for me, and I found myself sniffling through the tragic final acts of works like Riggoletto and La Boheme. By the end of the summer, I even caught myself whistling those earsplitting-but admittedly catchy-soprano arias. Somewhere along this path of exciting discovery I realized, for all my silly pretensions, how little I really knew about music despite a decade of piano lessons. And suddenly, somehow I discovered I was in love-with sound, and perhaps above all, with the amazing instrument of the human voice.

That December, I picked up Das Rheingold again, intending to give it another quick listen. I was floored. For the first time, I understood-here was powerful music, personal expression, and beautiful singing combined into the concept of Total Artwork. I spent the next three months utterly entrenched in Richard Wagner's great "Ring Cycle," of which Das Rheingold is the first of four parts. Unfortunate personality and politics aside, Wagner managed to destroy my lingering operatic misconceptions. The Greco-Roman influences in his plots satisfied my inner Classicist, and I finally began enjoying and even looking forward to those previously-ear piercing high notes. That spring, through an amazing turn of events, I found myself offered the chance to travel to New York and see an opera at the Metropolitan Opera House itself. Just a little over a year after listening to my first lecture on music appreciation, I spent one night in April surrounded by red velvet, crystal chandeliers, and people just as interested in music as I was. The opera preformed that night? Das Rheingold, of course.

Today, I am entirely convinced I will carry a love of great music with me for the rest of my life. My carefully-cultivated shelf of scores and recordings grows monthly, and I believe my family has even accepted my peculiar listening preferences-just as long as I do not bring Wagner to the dinner table. Of course, it's not just Das Rheingold or even opera any more: I have been sucked in by the unique expressive power of composers from Bach to Mahler, and even a few contemporaries. I'm awed by the amount of material out there to study, enjoy, and understand, and realize how little of the surface I have scratched so far. I will probably never sing Brunnhilde at the Met, or conduct the great orchestras of Europe-but I know I've always wanted to teach the things I love most. Whether I end up in a university or at home with a family, I will certainly find a way to share my love of music, and opera in particular. Someday maybe I can help someone else lose a few stereotypes.

I hugely appreciate any advice you may have!

Thanks so much in advance for any advice!

EF_Simone 2 / 1,986  
Aug 27, 2009   #2
This is a charming story, and it is well told for the most part. I'd like to see you tighten the middle of the narrative, where it begins to drag, but otherwise I see this as a very strong entry.
OP Aemilia 1 / 4  
Aug 27, 2009   #3
Wonderful, thanks! Is there a specific paragraph or section that is especially "dragging"? Did I add too much information or detail, or are my sentences too wordy, etc?

I will see what I can do. :)
EF_Simone 2 / 1,986  
Aug 27, 2009   #4
For me, the essay begins to drag with the paragraph that begins "After that first try" and continues to drag through the next paragraph. But let's hear what others think!

Also, in general, avoid empty modifiers like "rather" and "pretty much."
EF_Sean 6 / 3,491  
Aug 27, 2009   #5
The essay is very well-written. However, the prompt asks you to talk about a specific work, which I'm assuming is "Das Rheingold." I can't help but notice that paragraphs 1, 2, 4 and 6 don't really talk about it at all. (You do mention it in paragraph 2 at the very beginning, to say that you ignored it for a while). Well-written though it may be, I have to wonder if writing a six paragraph essay in which only two paragraphs deal with the prompt topic is wholly a good idea . . .
OP Aemilia 1 / 4  
Aug 28, 2009   #6
EF_Sean, Yes, I see what you mean...I was thinking of opera in general as my "creative work," however. Do you think this would work better under the "topic of your choice" section?

Thanks so much for your advice!
EF_Simone 2 / 1,986  
Aug 28, 2009   #7
No,no, no... Keep it where it is. It is perfectly clear that Das Reingold is the particular work of which you are writing, with opera as the wider topic.
EF_Sean 6 / 3,491  
Aug 28, 2009   #8
If you are going to keep the essay for this topic, I would condense the essay to focus more tightly on "Das Reingold," as the prompt asks you to focus on a particular work. You could use it as a topic of your own choice essay, though it would then overlap approach-wise with whatever else you wrote for this one, which seems like a bit of a waste.
EF_Kevin 8 / 13,334 129  
Dec 20, 2009   #9
I entertained the usual stereotypes; (after the semi-colon I added here, specify what stereotypes you are talking about. You can just be brief about it.)

That spring, however, I decided to spend my birthday money on a college course about music appreciation.----> very impressive. No, I don't think this is too informal at all.

every local Classical performance

Should classical be capitalized? I don't know...

intending to give it another quick listen.

You have a nice way with words. This essay is very impressive.

The only problem is that this strays from the topic a bit. It is not really about the "character." You can add an evaluative, reflective concludng sentence to each paragraph (or at least a few paragraphs) to bring the reader back to the character.

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