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#1534307 - 10/13/10 12:39 AM Using music on an application?
Frozenicicles Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/02/09
Posts: 1325
Loc: Canada
I'm applying for a post-degree residency program in a completely unrelated field to music. One of the essay topics asks us to give any additional information that may help them assess the strength of the application. The instructions say that they should be able to read the essays and have a good idea of who I am. I've already outlined my career goals and such in the other two essays. Would writing about my musical endeavours be too off the wall? I really have no idea what else to say in here that doesn't sound terribly contrived and generic.

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#1534322 - 10/13/10 01:02 AM Re: Using music on an application? [Re: Frozenicicles]
Rui725 Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/19/09
Posts: 953
hmmm. Writing about your relationship with music/piano or with a certain composer, pianist and how that has shaped your life is completely relevant. I wrote about my personal relationship with the violin and how that shaped my life for my college essay and I got into that particular school, and I was applying for a non-music related major as well. I don't think you can ever be terribly contrived and generic if you do a very good job in conveying your own, personal thoughts of the matter.

Edited by Rui725 (10/13/10 01:02 AM)

#1534324 - 10/13/10 01:10 AM Re: Using music on an application? [Re: Frozenicicles]
MarkH Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/16/08
Posts: 919
Loc: Seattle, WA
When I applied to graduate schools for molecular biology I wrote in my essays all about my passion for piano and for science, and how my intellectual and academic development lead me to follow them both with a high degree of commitment. I interviewed at about 10 prestigious graduate schools, and was told by a lot of interviewers that they were really impressed with my essay. Two of them even told me that it was the best application essay they'd ever seen. In contrast, only one person told me that my commitment to another unrelated pursuit was a little worrisome to him.

I say all this not to brag but merely to present the data of my experience. As long as you write with as much or more passion about your intended career path as you do about music in your essay, I think it should be clear to them by your action of applying that you're more serious about your degree than your music. You are simply a person who has a passion in your extracurricular time. I've found both on this forum and more generally that in the scientific community (if that is your focus), that there is a small but significant number of people who have a serious musical dedication outside of work, and a majority of them took lessons and wish they stuck with them as kids. So, this provides a great topic for the lighter moments of an in-person interview in which, if they want, they can make things less formal by discussing childhood foibles and you can offer your own. Etc.

I have two other pieces of advice that I got when I was writing my essay that I think really helped.

One: Be absolutely as intimate as you can bear. The more the reader can see into the core of your being and recognize what really drives you, the more he or she can understand and believe that you are really serious about your pursuit. As long as it pertains in some way to your career or to the formation of the desire for your career, and it doesn't paint you in a negative light, feel free to mention childhood disappointments, philosophical epiphanies, professional struggles, etc. The deeper you get, the more interesting the essay will be. And if those stories touch on something universal, it's going to be likely that the reader has shared that feeling in some way or another, and can really feel a shared bond with you that's much deeper than a shared career path.

Two: If you application is in English, write using e-prime. You can search for it online, but the basic idea is that writing is much more engaging without "to be" or any conjugation of it. This forces you always to use "active" verbs, and makes the narrative much more animated. It may not even be noticeable by the reader, but this goes a long way towards removing the dryness that often creeps into CVs and application letters.

Good luck with your application!

#1534325 - 10/13/10 01:15 AM Re: Using music on an application? [Re: Frozenicicles]
Rui725 Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/19/09
Posts: 953
Great suggestions Mark! I especially agree about being as "intimate" or perhaps a more suitable word, "engaging" with the reader as possible.

#1534347 - 10/13/10 02:07 AM Re: Using music on an application? [Re: Frozenicicles]
Frozenicicles Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/02/09
Posts: 1325
Loc: Canada
Thanks for the great suggestions, Mark and Rui! I've created a rough outline of my essay based on your suggestions, which I need to now flesh out and polish. I'm glad that based on the small sample size I have here, it seems that putting piano on an application essay seems to be a good idea. College applicants: this is an excellent thread to read!

#1535029 - 10/14/10 12:33 AM Re: Using music on an application? [Re: MarkH]
MegumiNoda Offline
Full Member

Registered: 05/31/09
Posts: 214
Great advice, Mark!

Adding in my own two cents: maybe instead of "intimate," I would say "concrete" or "vivid." Avoid frequently used cliches, even if you mean them sincerely. For example, don't say "I feel passionate about Beethoven; I find his Eroica symphony so inspiring!" Explain in concrete details. I think it's hard to write about music convincingly. Even the professionals have a tough time. Here is an interesting Article/advice/gripe from Jeremy Denk about writing program notes.

Since some of your readers may be sophisticated musicians themselves, the essay should not rub them the wrong way (i.e., since they can't hear you, they can only judge how serious a musician you are through your writings).

Admissions committees typically get a lot of applications, so they don't have the time (or desire) to read through all the essays carefully. You have to make sure that the main point gets communicated as effectively as possible. Don't assume that they will make the inferences on their own. For example, if you meant to suggest that studying music gave you skills that would help in your chosen field, you should explicitly discuss each case.

Good luck!

#1535702 - 10/15/10 01:31 AM Re: Using music on an application? [Re: Frozenicicles]
MarkH Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/16/08
Posts: 919
Loc: Seattle, WA
I went out tonight with a number of other professors who work at the college where I was just employed in my first real job as a professor. We were there nominally celebrating the success of some committee or other, but of course, conversation went much wider than that. At one point, we were all discussing how bizarre an ensemble we would make together, with two rock drummers, a bluegrass guitar, a classical violin and a classical piano. Some people at the table hadn't known that I played piano, but one other professor, the classical violinist who studied in college, and who'd been on the hiring committee that chose me, chimed in with something like, "yeah, that's part of why we hired him!" This comment wasn't followed by joking laughter to imply a joke or playfulness. I don't know how serious the comment actually was, but I'm sure there was some amount of truth to it. Once you've narrowed down an applicant pool to all people who are completely qualified, I think many times people will push for applicants they know they will like and work well with. This is may be more true for job applications, where you may work directly with people on the committee, than for college applications, but I think it's going to have a positive effect on both.

#1535781 - 10/15/10 06:19 AM Re: Using music on an application? [Re: Frozenicicles]
John_B Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/17/10
Posts: 621
Loc: Bristol, UK
Many, many decades ago, when I was doing post grad physics, it was notable how many students and lecturers in the science departments at the University had a great interest in classical music and many were very accomplished musicians.

Of course times change but I can't see that writing about your love of music and the piano can do anything but enhance your application. Especially if you *subtly* link it with the ideas of commitment, perseverance, and the ability to work hard in your chosen fields of interest.

It all adds depth to you as a person and that can only be good.

[Edit - scrub the bit about linking it to commitment, etc, etc as those aspects are implicit anyway and stressing them unduly risks it looking contrived.]

Edited by John_B (10/15/10 06:26 AM)


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