College Application Essay
by Chris Olson, 12th Grade
Setting bow to string, I begin to play Bach’s Prelude in G Major on a cello I made myself.
My fingers move swiftly through the notes. I look up and survey the assembled crowd, watching me and my box cello, carefully built under the guidance of a local luthier. Playing this piece on a self-made instrument sets my performance apart from the countless times these same notes have been played since the time of Bach.
This project and performance, undertaken as part of my Waldorf education, allowed me to take a piece of music and truly make it my own. Waldorf schools, which I’ve attended since the age of four, emphasize such project-based learning. The idea for the cello was sparked by an article I read about a “box cello” that had been played by a British soldier in the trenches during WWI. The uniqueness grabbed my interest, and I brought the idea to the husband of one of my teachers, an accomplished luthier. His mentoring, in combination with my own ideas, research, and hours of hard work, gave birth to the final product. This undertaking is but one example of how my Waldorf education has complemented my training in classical music. These two spheres of my life have made me independent and resourceful, committed to exploring the traditions of music and academics, as well as finding my own voice.
Waldorf education presents a variety of perspectives without imposing a particular ideology upon the student. I am encouraged to consider multiple points of view and given the freedom to reach my own conclusions. We rarely use textbooks, but instead create Main Lesson books: a portfolio of our essays, artwork, worksheets, and class materials. Taken together, this represents our work and insights. Additionally, nearly all of our written, artistic, and oral assignments demand a personal element that illustrates our relationship with the subject matter. For example, during a study of Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, I demonstrated my grasp of the material by creating an original poem and art project. A triangular wooden frame, a bird in flight, and poetic verse was my statement of how I experienced this literary classic. In a Bible Literature course, I was assigned to write my own version of a Biblical story. I placed myself in Ishmael’s sandals and wrote from his perspective. This included adding my own details and nuance to the tale of a father’s moral dilemma.
The consideration of multiple perspectives and the importance of making conscious choices that I have learned from Waldorf has had a strong influence on me as a musician. It has developed my sensitivity to the multi-layered nature of music. One prime example is when I performed Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence with the Folsom Lake College Youth Chamber Orchestra, of which I have been a member for four semesters. First to consider, when practicing such a piece, are the technical aspects: which passages need the most practice; what techniques must I employ for each new section? Next are the composer’s and conductor’s perspectives: what is the narrative behind the piece; why did the composer craft it in this way; how has my conductor interpreted the composition, and what instructions have been given to the musicians? Finally, there is my viewpoint: what feelings does the piece evoke in me; what story am I going to tell the audience through my performance? For each piece, I find a way to balance these different strands to create a unique and memorable performance.
Through Waldorf education and music, I am given the freedom to express my own individuality while building upon the work of great thinkers, teachers, composers, and musicians who have come before me. I am always searching for my own take, my own angle, my own perspective. I seek to write my own story: in my classroom, in my ensemble, in my life.