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Lost in Musical Translation-CommonApp Essay on Risk and Experience

ShadoPoig 11 / 36  
Dec 5, 2010   #1
Hey! Thanks for stopping by here. This is my essay in response to the CommonApp prompt on a significant risk I have taken, or experience I've had.

Don't hesitate to be harsh in critiquing it! I'd also greatly appreciate if you could write a brief takeaway from this; if you had to describe what you learned of me to someone, how would you do it in a sentence or two?

Thanks a lot in advance!

Lost in Musical Translation(831 words)

At the time, I just wanted to see Drew Barrymore. She and the music producers of the movie "Music and Lyrics" were visiting New York City public schools to observe and sponsor music classes. My class-divided into pairs of a keyboardist and vocalist each-had practiced playing the movie's theme, "Way Back Into Love," for weeks, in anticipation of the event.

On the big day, I was disappointed to discover that Drew Barrymore was not in attendance. Even worse, neither was my vocalist partner. I considered just playing the piano part of the song. After hearing the same keys and singing styles during the other performances, though, I feared that a solo piano piece would just prolong the monotony. For years as an avid keyboardist, I had been substituting other instruments for the vocal parts of pieces I practiced, by recording background music and playing over it. The sounds and beats I combined made me a one-man-band, and my improvisations made each sit-down a unique venture.

Prior to the performance, I had not really imagined that these musings would escape my bedroom walls to be exposed to the world; I had played for visiting relatives once when the instruments clashed, the tempo was thrown off, and the song was ruined. Ashamed at that debacle, I consequently kept my songs to myself.

Now, however, I was faced with a choice between playing yet another mundane piano piece or doing something vastly different at the risk of messing up in front of the music producers and being ridiculed by my classmates. As the act before mine wrapped up, I glimpsed an audio director suppress a yawn. In an effort to hide it, he flashed a smile reminiscent of the one a mother gives to a toddler who's shown her his hundredth drawing of a house. For my audience and myself, I made my decision.

I poked around on the keyboard's settings to create background music, a violin chord progression for my left hand, and a mellow but distinct electric piano melody for my right. I'm not supposed to be doing this, I thought to myself. This hasn't been rehearsed. But I'd already begun.

I opened with a poignant piano solo, reflecting the solitude of Hugh Grant's character in the movie. Analogous to the movie's characters, the piano and strings welcomed each other's comfort and company. While practicing with beats and backing tracks at home, I believed that I was translating the movie into the language of music, a language that everyone can comprehend. How can I help the blind man understand the movie as well as anyone else? When I reached the first chorus, a duet of the film's lovers, I reflected their budding chemistry by summoning the heartbeat of the drums and the soul of the guitars. With each measure, I deviated further and further from what was intended for this small performance, like a child who knew no restraint. I felt a sense of overexerted power, the power to create anything I wanted to. Yet, I simultaneously felt powerless, as the song pulsated through the speakers of the keyboard and my fingers went on autopilot.

I became enraptured in my song. I forgot that an audience was listening. I felt a freedom of innovation, no longer confined to the precise staccatos of Bach or the formulaic crescendos of Beethoven that I usually played in school and for my piano teacher. After several minutes, I experienced the satisfying exhaustion of a free hound after bounding as he pleases on an open field. My senses regained focus on my surrounding. As the song ended with a closing drum phrase, I saw the quasi-bewildered faces of my classmates and the music producers. What have I done? I started fearing the worst. I've gone too far. I should've stuck with the script.

But my thoughts were cut off by cheers.

Afterward, the chief music editor pulled me aside, wanting to interview me for his radio show. He put what I felt into words, saying that I played for the audience by evoking energy and being different. My friends described my song as "awesome," while other classmates scoffed at it, saying that it mocked classical music. To me, the best review of all was, "I wish it lasted longer." I did, too.

For the first time as a musician, I had performed and been lauded for a piece I had redefined, having taken the liberty to convey my reinterpretation in the way I wished. Even today, whether I am playing at a birthday party, fashion show, or recording with a record-label reggae artist, I try to grow by learning and innovating, based on my own feel for the songs and the audience's response. Unlike my classical piano concerts, these venues offer me something different from the opportunity to simply reprise Mozart's immortal music. In these other performances, I create my own songs. Maybe one day, I will play an original piece for Ms. Barrymore herself.

OP ShadoPoig 11 / 36  
Dec 14, 2010   #2
I was wondering if the conclusion would need more work on it. Also, what did you think of the "blind man" line? Does it throw you off, or does it contribute to the essay?
EF_Kevin 8 / 13,334 129  
Dec 17, 2010   #3
This is great stuff... I looked at it about a week ago but did not comment... I really enjoyed it, though.

If you are worried about throwing the reader off with that blind man sentence, you can use a technique that always works in that sort of situation: Build scaffolding prior to it in the essay.

Introduce the concept and mention it twice in the previous paragraphs. Use the word blind. Introduce it somehow so that the reader's experience will be as powerful as possible... no stumbling in an effort to interpret the concept.

:-) Great job!! I love good writing...
OP ShadoPoig 11 / 36  
Dec 17, 2010   #4
Thanks, Kevin!
In response to your suggestion, I was thinking of adding a sentence at the end of my second paragraph. Maybe something like "Even with my eyes closed, I would experience the same emotions as when I'd read a book or watch a movie".

Or "My eyes would close while playing; the song itself could inject in me the same emotions as a movie or book."

Just some thoughts. I'll keep playing around and see what works! :D
OP ShadoPoig 11 / 36  
Dec 24, 2010   #5
Bump...are there any more people that could look at this and give some feedback?
Benn_Myers 8 / 46  
Dec 24, 2010   #6
This is a good essay, damn good even. I wouldn't worry about bumping and further refinement on this, at some point you've just got to bite the bullet and submit the essay, and that's what I'd urge you to do.

But yeah, you've got a strong voice, good progression, and an engaging topic. This is a real winner. Good job.
Frito 2 / 2  
Dec 24, 2010   #7
This is an excellent essay. I'd recommend you just go ahead and submit it.
OP ShadoPoig 11 / 36  
Dec 25, 2010   #8
I heard once that the hardest thing to do with a college essay is submit it. No doubt.

Thanks for all of your help, guys!

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