College Admission Essays

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Andrew Koehler – Oreland - Pennsylvania

Andrew’s love of music began at the age of 5 when he started playing the violin. While a student at Upper Dublin Public High School, he began playing in the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra, eventually becoming that orchestra’s concertmaster. In this essay Andrew describes the orchestral Prelude and Liebestod from Wagner’s opera “Tristan and Isolde.” The essay’s sentence structure and lack of paragraphs are intentional efforts to more closely mirror the music described. In addition to his contributions in music, Andrew founded the German Club at his school and speaks both German and Ukrainian. He plans to pursue a career in conducting.

Prelude and Liebestod - Yale University

The thin white baton is suspended for only a moment above the conductor’s head. As it falls silently to its original chest-height position, the low strings begin their first hushed sounds. This is anguished music, full of tension. Again and again the same unsettling sonority appears, each time in desperate need of a resolution that is consistently and tortuously evaded. The music’s protagonist is fatally injured; his pain becomes ever more acute, and the imminence of his death is unquestionable. He nevertheless fights to stay alive—not for himself, but for his one true love. Thick, dense chromatic scales in the upper strings, which repeat in succession, build to a moment of frantic intensity as the hero desperately tries to tear off his bandages so that his true love might never know the extent of his fatal injuries. This passionate gesture only worsens his condition, and two low notes in the double basses, played with great weight, signal the hero’s inevitable death. With a haunting melody beginning in the woodwinds, the heroine approaches her lover. Realizing that he is dead, she begins to sing of her grief. Her song, passed delicately among the instruments of the orchestra, begins as a whisper. As the grief grows, so too does the tension in the musical texture, with each section of the orchestra eventually joining the collective in the singing of this song of tragedy. The music grows louder and louder still, and the passion reflected in the remembrance of this love becomes almost unbearable, until a point of saturation where it seems no longer possible to continue with such heart-wrenching pain, and it is at this point that the entire work’s tremendous climax occurs, when all members of the orchestra play with full force and unspeakable intensity, an intensity which describes the death of the heroine, for she, too, has died, from the insurmountable grief caused by her lover’s passing. Death hangs heavily in the air and the weary arpeggios in the strings begin to calm the music’s atmosphere. With the finality of the last chord, the cloud of tension which had so long held throughout the work finally resolves. There can be no more grief, and the tragedy of two deaths lies cradled in the complete tranquility for which the music had fought so long to reach. Slowly, ever so carefully, the various players of the orchestra begin to sit back in their respective seats and put their instruments down, exhausted by the sublime power of music.

Why This Essay Succeeded

Andrew does not write about himself directly in his essay, but the admission officers still learn a lot about who he is. It’s apparent that he is avid about music and has a level of understanding that few of us will ever possess. The way Andrew describes the music and his choice of words reveals his ability to hear and interpret music in a way that only a true musician can. Even if you have never heard this piece you can still imagine what it sounds like just by reading the descriptions Andrew provides. In an indirect yet unmistakable way, he shares a side of him that’s real music to the admission officers’ ears.

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