College Essays: The Recital

College Essays: The Recital

By Lauren Passell

Our Sparkler's essay:

I wipe my clammy hands on my skirt as I listen to the last notes of the Rondo alla turca by Mozart. I’m up next and although I’ve already done this at least a couple hundred times in my life I’m nervous. “Our next player will be [redacted]." I walk up to the whale-like instrument, set my music down, and take a bow. My bow is short and curt, little more than a head nod, although I had been taught that it should be the length of the word “hippopotamus”. I don’t like staring out at all those waiting faces. No matter how much I tell myself they aren’t, I feel them judging, ready to leap up, point, and laugh at the tiniest mistake I make. I walk around the side of the bench farthest from the audience to take my seat, just as I had been taught as a wee little girl. “Her first piece will be Invention in A minor by Beethoven”. I open the deteriorating book that I have borrowed from my teacher. Okay, I say to myself, this is no problem, you got this. You’ve been playing this piece for years, bringing it back for your senior year was a great choice, you’ll perform it flawlessly. The fast tempo of the piece enables me to keep moving without stopping to think and overanalyze what I’m doing. Each note rings out clearly in bright staccato on the beautiful Steinway I’m playing. Before I even realize it, the piece is over. I made it through! One down, two to go. “Now she will play Prelude in E minor by Chopin.” This one’s simple enough but, that tempo and those dynamics! They’ll do you in. Playing a piece that is so slow and piano is like standing naked in the middle of the high school cafeteria. Everything is all open and out there, for everyone to see. I begin the piece, a quick low b 16th note up to a high b, rolling into a winding story told by the right hand with a deep steady rhythm kept by the left. I’ve played it so expressively countless times in the comfort of my own home but the frantic shaking of my right foot is making it hard to do so. Every time I lift it up from the pedal my foot starts to do the nervous dance, shaking a tiny but urgent shake. The only way I can stop it is to keep my foot anchored on the pedal, somewhat hindering my dynamic abilities but enabling me to get through the piece. Finally I have reached the end, one more piece to go and I can get off this wretched stage. Although, it is rather nice up here, if only I could better control my bodily outbursts I would be enjoying this performance a whole lot more. “That was great” my teacher whispers as she takes a seat next to me on stage to turn pages for my last piece. I smile; I guess this isn’t going as bad as I thought. “For her last piece she will play Prelude in C sharp by Rachmaninoff”. I bang the first forte notes of the haunting tune, and then my fingers delicately prance to complicated chords. This is the most advanced of all the pieces I’m performing but the one I am most comfortable with. I have been playing it for over a year, hashing it out on the keys for anyone who will stop long enough to listen. I feel my mind start to wander as I come to the B section. I start thinking about the audience, and what they’re thinking. I know that most of them are probably extremely bored right now as I am the second to last player and the only reason they’re here is for their five year old daughter. I force myself to refocus; I don’t want to mess up on the grand finale. It’s too late; I just missed that b minor chord. Oh well I’ll just keep going and no one will notice. My parents won’t notice because right now they are some of the proudest people on earth, and my grandmother definitely won’t tell me if she noticed because I am her favorite and only granddaughter, and to see me playing just like she did so many years ago is the best gift I could ever give to her. No one will care, except of course the other advanced player in the room, yes, that guy that’s playing after me. He’s last in the recital, the best of the best, and oh so much better than me. Darn you talented teen, I wanted to be the most talented one here! I will smother you with my double forte dynamics and dramatic ending! Take that last player! And just like that it’s over, the performance I had so much anxiety over is done within ten minutes. I stand, take my bow, and exit stage right.

Our thoughts:

Wow! You’re a great writer—your descriptions are incredibly strong. We feel like we can hear the music notes through your strong use of words. That makes it an entertaining read, but we think there needs to be more reflection. It’s a little anticlimactic—the reader is expecting a serious flop. Perhaps because this essay is so strong, you have set yourself up for a big ending. It’s okay that nothing huge happens (like you fart on the piano stool or completely forget the rest of the piece), but you have to really dedicate the end of the essay to tying it all together. Here are our tips on how to accomplish that:

  • Think about how this changed you. All good stories display a different protagonist at the beginning than at the end. Think about how you were a different pianist at the end of this piece.
  • The piece also needs to be broken up. Right now it’s a huge paragraph and your ideas need to be split up. We recommend starting with a good introduction that sets up the reader for what is about to happen, the chunk of your story, and then a conclusion that resolves what we talked about in tip #1.
  • And yes—an introduction. You start out with a strong image of you at the piano, but the reader has to know what they are diving into. Give more background information and possibly hint about what you are about to put forward. Related to that, you need to explain right off the bat that you are playing the piano. “The whale-like instrument” is a good way to describe it, but that could be describing other instruments, too. Make sure the reader has a solid image of what you are doing at the very beginning.
  • We know that “bow” means two different things at the beginning, but it doesn’t sound as good as it could because you repeated a word so close together. Think of a better word for the first “bow,” and then you can go on to describe your “bow,” the instrument.
  • “As a wee little girl” is a good place to tell the reader how long you have been playing. Give a precise age.
  • Cut “They’ll do you in.” It does nothing for your piece.
  • Another way to break up the essay is with dialogue. You throw some in there (“Jillian’s first piece will be Invention in A minor by Beethoven”) but the reader has to know who is talking. Don’t rush that part.
  • Here is another section that needs to be expanded: “Although, it is rather nice up here, if only I could better control my bodily outbursts I would be enjoying this performance a whole lot more.” That statement contradicts the one you made earlier, so you need to explore that conflict in greater detail. Because you rush through this sentence with such little explanation, it takes away from the feeling of the piece—the feeling that you are incredibly nervous. It is okay to mention that you also have a good feeling about being on stage, but saying that you would be enjoying it “a whole lot more” doesn’t really tell the reader anything. How do you feel when you are enjoying being on stage?
  • The end needs to be broken up, too. You go from comforting yourself with the fact that your family will not notice, to thinking about the person who will play after you, to engaging in an imaginary conversation with him. That is a good thing to add, but treat it to its own paragraph. Also, when you are talking to yourself, that needs to be its own paragraph.
  • Finally as we said before, you need to add some personal reflection to the end. What did this make you think about that’s bigger than piano recitals? How you handle anxiety? How you are stronger than you think you are? How you are proud of yourself for working toward a goal and accomplishing it? Maybe add something about your family. Are they giving you a standing ovation? Are they smiling at you?

Great start! Now split it up and really dig in and you’ll have a knockout piece!


Topics: sparklers, college applications, college admissions, application essays, college application essays, writing help, college essays, college admission essays

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