Special to The Swellesley Report courtesy of the Wellesley High School Bradford and Parents of Performing Students (POPS). This is one in a series of Wellesley POPS senior profiles we’ll be publishing.
Despite Jae Min Ahn’s peers knowing him for his impressive Rubik’s cube solves and funny jokes, what has developed to be his passion over the past decade is the violin, an instrument which his mentors and fellow musicians have seen him become increasingly dedicated to, as he has perfected his craft.
After picking up the violin through school-sponsored public lessons at his elementary school in second grade, Jae Min allowed this to become his main passion.
“As a kid, it was one of my first commitments as a hobby. A lot of kids have sports, and the thing for me was the violin, and I just stuck with it,” said Jae Min.
Dr. Sergey Khanukaev, who has mentored Jae Min since sixth grade, observed his talent and drive from an early age.
“Already in middle school, he was extraordinary among all the students. He was very advanced and serious,” said Khanukaev.
Jae Min’s hard work paid off in eighth grade, when he performed at the Symphony Hall in Boston, as part of an auditioned youth orchestra, which was more exclusive than what he typically performed in at the high school.
“It was overwhelming, I was just a little kid, and Symphony Hall is very big for a little kid, it makes you feel like a professional. It’s very different from small school auditoriums,” said Jae Min.
In the same year, he reached another big milestone: performing his first symphony, an elaborate musical composition for a full orchestra, in the same venue.
In high school, Jae Min started to set his sights on more opportunities outside of school to perform and simultaneously started to become more of a leader as he progressed through the high school.
Learning life lessons
Looking back at all the ups and downs of his musical career, Jae Min sees many life lessons that his extensive experience with the violin has given him.
“I have learned the benefits of hard work, practicing every day, and it has made me more goal-oriented,” said Jae Min. “Even though it can be a grueling process, when you perform [a piece], it doesn’t even have to be at Symphony Hall, when you have a good performance, you feel satisfied with yourself, as if you have accomplished something.”
Khanukaev has seen his experience in out-of-school orchestras improve his performance in his program. “Jae Min…participates in other orchestras outside of school, and [you can] immediately feel that he is experienced. He knows how to fulfill professional requests.”
“He was not always a leader,” said Khanukaev, “he was sitting second stand and then he moved to the first row and was getting experience from the concertmaster, and then when he became concertmaster, it was very natural for him.”
As Jae Min moved up through the ranks of the orchestra, he also realized that he needed to assume a certain level of responsibility, in order to be an effective leader. “When you are concertmaster, you have to act more dynamic,” said Jae Min. “You have to be more physically active, you have to move around.”
Jeremy Kim ’23 has played alongside Jae Min in his time at the high school, and as they have gotten to know each other better, Jae Min’s work ethic has started to have an impact on Kim. “I’ve known him for a long time, and he motivates me to get better…through his playing, I feel motivated.” Kim has known Jae Min both as a musician and a friend and has noticed the stark contrast in his behavior when assuming these different roles. “During school orchestra, he’s always joking around and tries to make the atmosphere better. But during the concert, he gets his serious face on… [He is] two-faced in a good way.”
When he gets serious, Kim notes that he has a unique skill set with the violin. “He has very good musicality…[but] I think the thing that mostly shines is how he takes a piece and shows that it’s his, he turns it into his own, and so he is able to appeal to the audience, in a way that a lot of people can’t.”
However, Jae Min’s high school experience as a musician has involved much less of an audience than he would have liked, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Things like the All-Nationals and All-Eastern, which were supposed to be live performances, were switched to Zoom, which was honestly pretty bland,” said Jae Min. “I understand that people have tried to make it entertaining, but it’s still pretty dull.”
However, this hasn’t deterred Jae Min, who is hopeful that, as the pandemic situation improves, there will be more opportunities to display his hard work in front of a live audience. “The most I have been able to get out of the pandemic music-wise is just practicing more. That’s really the main thing. Biding my time, building up my skills until things start to open up.”
Jae Min’s work rehearsing has started to pay off. He started having in-person concerts at the end of last year and has been able to demonstrate his skills in a more familiar and interesting environment. “[The pandemic] was a rough time, certainly uneventful, but it’s getting better,” said Jae Min.
While not performing, Jae Min has found many other ways to enjoy himself in his free time. He plays video games, fishes, hangs out with friends, and solves the Rubik’s Cube. He can typically solve a Rubik’s Cube in under fifteen seconds, and his record is around just six seconds.
But while his interest in the Rubik’s Cube has faded over the years, his passion for the violin continues to push him forward. Jae Min is a senior who will be attending Cornell University next year, but he doesn’t want this to stop him from pursuing this lifelong interest. “I don’t plan to quit violin in the near future. It is a valuable skill I have accumulated over the years, and I would like to maintain that,” Jae Min said. “I would like to join the college orchestra, and do pretty much the same thing I am doing now.”
Article by WHS Bradford staff: Adam Juma ’23 and Griffin Jordan ’24.