After the Audition

Many young musicians practice for countless hours to audition for the Jacobs School of Music. But what happens to the students who get rejected?

For Ella Jasnieski, the clarinet feels like home. She loves the way it fits in her hands, the feeling of the keys and holes under her fingers. She loves its versatility, its freedom.

Ella spent two years learning how to play one piece: “Time Pieces” by Robert Muczynski. It’s a complex composition, constantly changing time signatures. The start of the piece is so slow and low that when the song starts, Ella almost feels like she is falling asleep. Then the piece accelerates and jumps, jolting her awake.

By the time she felt like she knew the piece inside and out, Ella knew she wanted to attend Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music. Her high school band instructor had gone to Jacobs, and she wanted to be like him. Her senior year of high school, she applied.

She sent in her application, but on the day of the audition, she chickened out and didn't go.

For the past four years, she had been preparing to audition for Jacobs. But she was so afraid of the rejection that she figured it would be easier to reject herself.

girl playing clarinet
IU sophomore Ella Jasnieski plays her clarinet during rehearsals for the IU Marching Hundred on Oct. 12, 2021, in the Green Parking Lot outside of the IU Tennis Center. The white barrel around her clarinet is a sign that Ella won the Marching Hundred’s Vito Award for best spirit or attitude that week.

A year later, Ella’s freshman year at IU, she applied again. By then, the pandemic forced Ella’s audition online, so she submitted a video audition. In the weeks before her video was due, she holed herself up in her basement and played the clarinet for countless hours.

She recorded her performance of “Time Pieces” repeatedly, playing back the recording and finding herself unsatisfied. She picked apart small things, like the way she breathed in one video or the way her finger slipped in another. It always felt like she could do better.

So she recorded up until the day before the audition was due, when she submitted her clips.

A month and a half later, Ella checked her inbox and saw the email from the admissions office. “Oh my God,” she thought. “Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God.”

To her, it seemed her whole life would be decided in this one email. It would tell her if all her hours of practice had been a waste of time, or if it had all been worth it.

As she read the email, Ella began to shake. Suddenly her body felt hot.

An overwhelming feeling of failure swept over her. A feeling that she wasn’t good enough.


By the time he was a freshman in high school, Corbin Dubois knew he wanted to play the saxophone professionally.


He loves the way the saxophone sits comfortably in his hands, how the sound it makes is unlike any other. He loves the loudness and the bright tone it has and how he can always pick out the sound of a saxophone in a band.

When Corbin auditioned in-person in the winter of 2020, there were three other saxophonists in the room. They played polished scales, and the sound they emitted was full and unshaken. As someone who has played the saxophone for almost a decade, Corbin could tell from their sound that the others were good, that they were confident.

Ella and Corbin were both rejected from the Jacobs School of Music. While both say the rejection was hard, they found a way to still play music.

Corbin felt hot and sweaty. His fingers shook, and his heart raced.

As he left the room, he was already steeling himself for rejection. He pounded it into his head that he wouldn’t get in. He thought it would help lessen the blow.

But when he opened the email and read the words he feared, his stomach still dropped.

He pushed the feeling away. If he didn’t think about it, maybe it wouldn’t hurt too much. Maybe he wouldn’t fall apart.


The Jacobs School of Music is a crucible, a place of sky-high ambition and pulverizing pressure. For decades, it has been known as one of the best music schools in the world. Earlier this year, the QS World University Rankings confirmed that reputation by ranking Jacobs among the top 20 music schools in the world and one of the top five in the country, along with The Juilliard School, New York University, the University of Rochester and Harvard University.

Some of the young musicians admitted into Jacobs go on to sing on Broadway, win Grammy awards or perform in some of the country’s best orchestras.

But many talented musicians don’t make it in. Admission rates vary greatly based on the major, but about 70% to 75% of Jacobs applicants don’t get in, Jacobs Director of Admissions Espen Jensen said. Of an average applicant pool of 2,000, 1,400 to 1,500 students are rejected.

Inevitably, some promising students don’t make the cut.

When students audition for Jacobs in a performance major, they start by submitting a recording and an application for a prescreening process. Then, they audition with a faculty member who makes a recommendation to an eight-person admissions committee, which makes a final decision.

Students applying to the music education program, like Ella did, must complete an audition and an interview with the music education faculty.

girl playing clarinet
IU Sophomore Ella Jasnieski performs as part of the Marching Hundred during rehearsals on Oct. 12, 2021, in the Green Parking Lot outside of the IU Tennis Center. Ella has played clarinet since she was nine years old.

Any student in the performing arts is going to face disappointment, Jensen said.

“It’s not going to be an open door at all times. There’s not going to be success at every step of the way,” Jensen said. “That’s just part of how it is.”


Jensen said it's important for students to recognize rejection is all a part of moving forward, even if it doesn’t match exactly with a student’s plan.

Joey Tartell, Jacobs’ director of undergraduate studies and a professor of trumpet, said Jacobs faculty are looking for students who are technically proficient on their instrument and who want to grow as musicians. But they’re also looking for students who fit well in the school, a more subjective quality.

“Not getting in here doesn’t say anything about them as a person or as their future prospects,” Tartell said. “It just means that at the time, what we saw and when we saw them, we didn’t think they were a good fit.”

— Joey Tartell, Jacobs director of undergraduate studies

Tartell said he had one student who auditioned three times before she was admitted as a music education major. She now teaches at a high school in Texas.

Like any musician, Tartell has faced rejection in his career. When he was a student applying to music schools, he got rejected from one of his top picks. Rejection is not just a part of a music career, he said, but of any career in any field. He believes it should be used as a learning opportunity — a chance to grow and improve.

Still, the blow hits hard.


Ella Jasnieski’s love for music has been nearly lifelong. The first time Ella played an instrument was when she was three, in the basement of her first house. Katie Jasnieski, her mom, remembers hearing Ella tinkering with the piano that came with the house.

Katie remembers thinking, “Oh, okay, there’s something here.”

By the age of seven, Ella was taking piano lessons.

At nine, Ella wanted to try a new instrument. When her arms were too short for the trombone, she settled for the clarinet.

Her freshman year of high school, she decided she wanted to take playing music more seriously.

It was because of a piece they had played in band class: “October” by Eric Whitacre. To Ella, the song sounded ethereal, like the instruments were singing. The song’s beautiful mix of harmonies and melodies made her envision a fall scene.

“You can see it in your head listening to it,” she said. “You can feel the wind and see the trees and it's so beautiful. So beautiful.”


The summer before her junior year of high school, she attended IU’s Summer Music Clinic. She liked the feeling of being around people who took music as seriously as she did. She liked how passionate other musicians were. She wanted to go to music school.

Senior year, Ella bounced between band classes for three hours a day. She played in two concert bands, pep band, marching band, jazz band, the show choir backup band and the orchestra pit for musicals. She also competed in solo competitions and played in small ensembles on the side.

“If there was an opportunity to play, I did it,” she said.

Most days, after hours of playing at school, she would go home and practice for another two or three hours. When she was practicing the most, Ella was playing the clarinet for about six to seven hours per day.

Music wasn’t just about performances. It was also about making friends.

When Ella was younger, she was shy — so shy that when her grandfather would come over and ask for a mini concert, she would make him listen from another room.

girl laughs while holding clarinet
IU sophomore Ella Jasnieski laughs while talking with a fellow member of the Marching Hundred during rehearsals Oct. 12, 2021, in the Green Parking Lot outside of the IU Tennis Center. Ella was rejected by the Jacobs School of Music twice but now says she sees playing music not as something she has to do, but rather as something she wants to do.
girl playing clarinet
IU sophomore Ella Jasnieski performs the clarinet in formation as part of the IU Marching Hundred during rehearsals Oct. 12, 2021, in the Green Parking Lot outside of the IU Tennis Center. Ella attended IU’s Summer Music Clinic during the summer before her junior year of high school.

In high school, music helped her come out of her shell. The friends she made through band were her people. She became more outgoing and confident.

“Music has always been kind of her escape,” her mother said.

Ella’s hours of practice both in and out of school paid off. All four years of high school, she won gold medals for her solo and ensemble competitions through the Indiana State School Music Association. As a high school senior, Ella played clarinet in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade as about 3 million people watched on the streets of New York City and 50 million more watched on TV.

Her first music school applications were due during her senior year of high school. Ella applied and got into IU South Bend’s music program. But where she really wanted to go was the Jacobs School of Music. She wanted to study music education and make kids appreciate music the way she had come to.

At the beginning of 2021, Ella decided to audition for Jacobs again. During IU’s winter intersession, Ella went home and practiced.

Weeks later, Ella sat on the floor of her dorm room, talking to a friend and a roommate when she got the email. She opened it and the room went quiet.

“I was completely overwhelmed with sadness, because I had worked my entire life towards going to music school and knowing that I probably would never get to was completely crushing,” she said. “It was very heartbreaking.”

The first thing she did was call her mom.

Katie listened as Ella questioned her decision to apply and follow through with the audition, the amount of time she’d committed to preparing for the audition, her playing abilities.

As a parent, it was hard for Katie to hear her child sound so devastated. She knew getting into Jacobs was the one thing Ella had really wanted. She tried to offer comfort and advice.

At the time, nothing could have made her feel better, Ella said.


Ella had always believed that hard work pays off, her mom said. The rejection shook that belief — did the countless hours of practicing amount to nothing more than wasted time?

But even now, when she thinks about it, she wonders if it’s the opposite problem: if there were days she should’ve practiced more, if she shouldn’t have taken days off.

“I still tell myself that,” she said. “I know it’s not true, but I still tell myself that.”

At first after her rejection from Jacobs, Ella didn’t play much. It was difficult for her to even pick up the clarinet. For so many years, she had been working toward a goal, whether it was winning a solo competition or getting into Jacobs. Now, she wasn’t doing much of anything. She shut down.

Playing the clarinet reminded her of rejection. When she did play, she would be more nitpicky. Every mistake she made was evidence of why she hadn't gotten into Jacobs.

It hurt, hating the instrument she loved.


The first instrument Corbin played was a recorder in third grade. His school had a program called recorder karate. When students played a certain song, they would get a new belt — a piece of ribbon — added to their recorders.

Corbin made it all the way to the black belt.

In sixth grade, he started playing the saxophone. Before long he was using the sax to explore jazz.

He loves the spontaneity of jazz, how much it flows outside of the rigidity of classical music and how expressive it is. Within jazz, he loves improvisation.

When he improvises alone, he enters his own world. He closes his eyes, sways his head side to side, his left foot taps against the floor on beat, his fingers dance across the keys of his black saxophone as his body moves with the melody.

man looks on
IU junior Corbin Dubois sits during an interview Sept. 10, 2021, outside of the Jacobs School of Music. Corbin was rejected in his attempt to gain admission into Jacobs.

When he’s improvising with others, he says it’s like having “a whole conversation” with them, but with instruments, not words. He loves bouncing his sound off of the drums or the piano. He loves listening to other people and figuring out how to make the two instruments fit together.

In his sophomore year of high school, Corbin started taking private lessons. The drive was almost an hour and a half round trip once a week.

When Corbin was practicing the most, he played for five and a half hours a day. Most days, he played the saxophone in class and in jazz or pep or marching band after school. At home, he would practice classical pieces for a few more hours.

Playing sometimes took a toll, mentally and physically. Senior year of high school, Corbin had to take a break from playing the saxophone because it caused shooting pains in his left wrist.

The first time Corbin auditioned for Jacobs as a high school senior, he applied to audio engineering. Jacobs rejected him.

He decided to attend IU anyway, knowing he would audition for Jacobs’ saxophone program his freshman year.

The day of the audition, Corbin put on a suit and went to the music school. He auditioned for Otis Murphy, an IU saxophone professor as well as a renowned international saxophonist, according to IU’s website. Corbin had heard Murphy’s name before. To say the least, he was nervous.


Corbin played scales, etudes and a piece of his choosing: “Concertino da camera” by Jacques Ibert. Almost a decade of playing, countless hours of practice and the whole thing was done in 15 minutes.

When Corbin got his rejection email, the first thought that came into his mind was that he should’ve practiced more.

This is my fault, he thought.

He called his mom and texted his high school friend and fellow saxophonist Aaron Sandel to tell them he didn’t get in. Aaron didn’t pry, but said he could tell Corbin was upset.

Aaron has known Corbin since the eighth grade when they were in band class together. While Corbin didn’t show it much, Aaron said he could tell getting rejected from Jacobs was hard for Corbin. Aaron had seen Corbin’s dedication to the saxophone and to music.

“Music was his thing,” Aaron said. “He was the music guy.”

But after Corbin got his rejection from Jacobs, he didn’t play much. It was hard to look at his saxophone without feeling disappointment.

man hands out music
IU junior Corbin Dubois hands out sheet music at an All Campus Jazz Band rehearsal on Sept. 26, 2021, at the Music Annex Building. The All Campus Band is a band open to students including those who are not in the Jacobs School of Music.
two men walk
IU juniors Corbin Dubois and Josh Sharp talk while walking to Read Quad, Oct. 14, 2021. Corbin and Josh work as residential assistants at Read Quad.

Because he had played the instrument almost everyday for years, not playing felt strange.

After a month, Corbin realized he missed the saxophone, the comfortable feeling of the instrument in his hands. So he picked it up. His muscles remembered the movements of playing. He knew he was never going to play professionally, but that meant he could play for fun. The pressure he felt in high school, the pressure of always having to perform at his best, was gone.

Now Corbin plays in the All Campus Jazz Band. The band meets in the Music Annex building Sunday nights. At the start of practice, a cacophony of sounds fills the room as trombone, trumpet, electric guitar, drum and saxophone players warm up. Masks are wrapped under chins or laid on chairs.

Corbin wets his reed in his mouth to soften it before setting it on the mouthpiece and attaching it to his instrument. The instructor lifts his hands and snaps his fingers, setting off a chorus of tapping feet. Corbin holds his saxophone to his right side.

As breath travels from his lungs, up his throat and through his mouth, it enters the saxophone through the mouthpiece, travels through its neck and body and emits a sound out of the bell.

But it’s not just the sound of Corbin’s saxophone that fills the room. It’s the sound of all of the instruments. The two electric guitar players, the two trumpets, the trombone, the drums, the piano and the seven other saxophones.

His relationship with music is different, but Corbin is still playing, and he’s not playing alone.


When Ella started playing the clarinet again it wasn’t entirely by choice. She had private lessons to attend and had to help teach marching band at her high school during summer break. But she found that not having the pressure of solo competitions or the Jacobs audition looming over her wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. When she played, she didn’t feel a rollercoaster of emotions. She didn’t get stressed out to the point of a near panic attack.

She played because she wanted to get better, for her own sake.

“I’m going back and talking to an old friend again," she said. "I’m not playing because I have to, I’m playing because I want to.”

— Ella Jasnieski

Ella still plays the clarinet five days a week in IU’s marching band, the Marching Hundred. When practice starts at the Green Lot behind Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, she is among the horde of students covering the sloped grass hill above the parking lot. Instrument cases and backpacks litter the field as students line up inside of orange cones for practice.

Ella chats with fellow clarinet players, but once practice starts, they fall quiet. Eyes fix on the conductor. Ella’s clarinet, whose nickname is Bertha, sits familiarly in her hands. Her fingers move up and down its keys and holes. As her breath enters the instrument, her eyebrows furrow in concentration.

Her feet move across the pavement in careful steps, starting with her heel to her toes. The lot is a mass of constantly moving bodies.

Ella is just one moving part among hundreds of students and hundreds of instruments. She is just one among the blaring brass instruments and the steady beat of the percussion section. She is just one among the woodwind instruments, among the clarinet section. Amongst those hundreds of people, however, her sound is not lost.

It joins in.