45: Let It Shine

45: Let It Shine

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Getting In...To College

Let It Shine

It is well for people who think, to change their minds occasionally in order to keep them clean.

~Luther Burbank

“Thank you.” I tried to smile through stiff, trembling lips, but as soon as I stepped into the hallway, tears filled my eyes.

Music was my life, and ever since I’d started playing bassoon in eighth grade, I’d dreamed of college auditions. My dreams were all the same—me, playing brilliantly; professors from famous music schools becoming so excited they’d accept me on the spot. “We can offer you a full ride. Please don’t go to Julliard—we want you here!”

I’d been hot stuff in high school, but now those college auditions had started. And so far, real life couldn’t be further from my daydreams. Here, in these marble halls swarming with talented kids and hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of instruments, I felt like a complete fake.

Nobody here cared that I had the first seat in honors orchestra, two years running. They seemed to look right through me and know I didn’t practice six hours a day — that my bassoon teacher was just an assistant high school orchestra director instead of a symphony musician.

This audition had been the worst yet. I was so nervous I’d made one mistake after another. The two auditioners didn’t smile or try to help me relax. After my etude, one just said, “That sounded bad.”

By the end, when they asked if I could name the “Big 5” orchestras —something I could normally rattle off in my sleep — I only came up with three. All I wanted was to leave.

I fled, bumping into kids talking about “last summer at Interlochen,” and “my audition at New England Conservatory.” What was I doing here? Why had I ever thought I was anything special?

We had been planning to go out for a special dinner, and Mom must have been starving. But when I found her in the coffee shop, I just muttered, “Let’s get out of here.” It was already getting dark, and we soon found ourselves fighting rush hour traffic in a strange city. Mom’s white-knuckled hands clutched the steering wheel as she scanned overhead signs for our route out of town.

Usually, I helped navigate, but all I could do was huddle against the door and try to breathe around the lump in my throat. What was the use? I’d applied five places, including two “safety schools.” At one, I’d only gotten a conditional acceptance because I couldn’t pass their weird theory test. I hadn’t formally auditioned at the other one yet, but I’d gone for a tour back in the fall and played for the bassoon teacher. He’d pretty much ripped me up, too. I couldn’t imagine how my other auditions were going to go — if I went through with them.

It was hard going back to school on Monday. My friends weren’t serious musicians, and they all figured I was on the road to fame and fortune. I couldn’t possibly explain what I was going through, so I just didn’t say much. Why, oh why, did I ever want to be a music major? Wasn’t it enough, just coming up with the grades and the SAT scores — without having to take all these auditions, too?

But the truth is I already knew why. I’d never played an instrument at all till I was twelve, but as soon as I picked up a bassoon, I felt like I’d finally come to life. If I didn’t follow through with this, what would I have? What would I be?

The winter went by in a blur of homework, more auditions, senioritis, and icy slush. Kids were coming to school and saying they’d been accepted. One of my best friends got into Harvard.

Things for me had gotten better — and worse. I’d been accepted at two music schools. But I also got put on the waitlist for one of my two brand-name conservatories. Now, I realize that was a compliment to my playing in itself — but then, all I could think was that I wasn’t good enough for them. That I wasn’t good enough to be a performer at all. I still hadn’t heard from the other conservatory, but I hardly wanted to — it was where the teacher had said my etude “sounded bad.”

Spring came, and I was sitting in Region Orchestra rehearsal. The other students had come from school districts all across our half of the state. Most of them, it seemed, planned on music careers, too. It was the usual business of trying to come in at the right time, passing notes and funny pictures, and trying not to get caught up in the “where are you going to school” conversations.

The guest conductor was talking. I was in my spot, jammed in with too many other bassoons, right in front of the horns and the trombones, way at the back of the stage. Suddenly, there was my orchestra director, waving his cell phone at me from down in the auditorium seats. “Call from your mother,” he mouthed.

Great. I felt the conductor’s glare on my back as I squeezed out between the rest of the orchestra, feeling like Little Miss Rudeness.

“Hello.” I didn’t try to keep the grouchiness out of my voice when I answered the phone.

Mom just launched into a tune. “Let it shine,” she sang.

“Yes?”

“Don’t you recognize the song?” she asked. “It’s from the Orange County movie soundtrack, where the girl gets her acceptance and starts jumping up and down.”

“What??”

“Guess who got in?”

At first, I didn’t even understand what she was saying, but finally, realization and happiness flooded over me like a hot shower. The big conservatory I’d run away from in tears—they wanted me!

The orchestra was taking its break now, too, and I turned and screamed, “Guess what?!” I spent the whole rest of the day telling everyone my good news. People were giving me high-fives and asking all about my auditions and what my plans were.

That had to be one of the best moments of my life. But then a weird thing happened. After the excitement died down, I realized I wasn’t so sure where I really wanted to go to school. The conservatory was impressive—and it was attached to one of the most elite universities in the country. But, even with my scholarship package, it still had a price tag to match. And attending any classes at the university meant a bus trip to the other campus — if I could ever squeeze it in.

I started to realize that although one of my “safety” schools wasn’t the easy target I’d first thought, they’d accepted me — and I really liked the place. The music school was part of a big, academically strong university, where I’d not only be able—but expected—to take liberal arts classes. And my financial package covered a big chunk of the cost of going there.

I agonized up till the last day, but in the end, I knew what I hadn’t been able to see going in: sometimes the “best” school isn’t really the right school. Sometimes, the right school is what’s best for you. I was grateful for the confidence boost, but I didn’t need to go to a big-name school to know what I was cut out to do in life. What was more valuable was what I’d learned about myself and what mattered to me in the long run.

~Marcella Dario Fuentes

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