Saren’s passion for music began as a child when he and his siblings began to study piano. When he was seven and a half, a family friend, who was also a musician, suggested Saren begin violin lessons, prompting him to enroll at PCM with Sharon Harman.
Around middle school, Saren began playing chamber music with his brother George (now 22), who studied piano with Dr. Vatche Mankerian, and Patill (now 18), who studies flute with Barbara Mullens-Geier and piano with Dr. Vatche Mankerian. The trio, also coached by Dr. Mankerian, won an impressive number of prizes, including first place awards at the Armenian Allied Arts Competition and the Satori International Competition. Patill was also principal flute in the Pasadena Youth Symphony Orchestra, and Saren the PYSO concertmaster.
In the summer before 10th grade, Saren enrolled in PCM’s Chamber Music Intensive (CMI), led by Artist Teacher Aimee Kreston. Saren was placed in a string quartet and recalls being blown away by the program. “It was one week of just chamber music – it was amazing. You learn a new piece of music from scratch with three other students you’ve never played with before. And then by time you get to the end of the week you have something that’s performable, and we did perform. We got so much done – it was a thrilling experience.” During his first CMI, Saren’s string quartet learned all four movements of Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No. 2 in A minor.
As a homeschooler, Saren was excited by opportunities to collaborate with other students and PCM’s chamber music program provided the perfect outlet for his passion. Through chamber music, “I was able to learn how to collaborate with others. I was able to learn how to respect everyone’s opinions and actually test what they want to do with a certain piece – there’s always a solution. I also felt a great sense of accountability to the other students.”
At the same time, Saren began taking music more seriously. He began learning the most difficult concerto he had studied up until that time: the Khachaturian Violin Concerto. The demands of the string quartet and learning the concerto motivated him to up his practice time, and helped him develop his personal style as a musician. “Every chamber piece I played, I was able to see everyone’s different styles and ideas, and we were able to mold our playing styles together to make a more cohesive group… It’s time consuming to work through all these different ideas, but you have to try them out in order to make a decision as a group.”
Through music study, Saren also learned many life lessons. He shared that, “In the real world, especially in the audition process, you have to be ready. Nobody cares if you show up or not. If you don’t show up, you lose it. It’s all on you. This was a great deal of responsibility on me and helped me realize that getting ready for college was going to be really serious.”
Saren is now a freshman enjoying the rigor of Caltech. “The course material is amazing, as is interacting with other students even though it’s online.” Not surprisingly, Saren enjoys the collaborative environment of Caltech and loves working on assignments with other students (many of whom also graduated high school early). Saren has yet to declare a major and has until spring to do so, possibly mechanical engineering or biology.
Before we signed off our Zoom call, we asked Saren two final questions: 1) If you could go back in time, what would you tell your younger self, and 2) What is one piece of advice for a student at PCM. See below for his answers.
PCM: If you could go back in time, what would you tell your younger self?
SD: Practice harder when you’re younger. I took practicing way too lightly. It came relatively easy for me. It just clicked, so I didn’t feel the necessity to practice. I started violin at seven and a half (relatively late for a string musician) and started seriously practicing when I was 13 or 14, which was not that long ago. I wish I spent more time practicing earlier on.
PCM: What is one piece of advice for a student at PCM
SD: I would say that you should do whatever you love the most in music. Each person enjoys a unique facet of music, and they should do their best to enhance that love and explore it in depth. For me, I particularly enjoyed chamber music and works by Armenian composers. Because of my love for chamber music, I took part in as many chamber music opportunities as I reasonably could and listened to and thoroughly studied scores of works I didn’t even plan to perform. With regards to Armenian music, I spent much of 11th and 12th grades finding unknown Armenian works and performing them. Yes, I do believe that learning standard repertoire is important for all musicians, but I believe that my desire to find unknown works and composers really made my musical learning experience more robust.