20. 我的青春紀事 / 陳芳玉 A Remembrance of My Youth/Rita Fang-Yuh Chen

A Remembrance of My Youth


By: Rita Fang-Yuh Chen,

NTU Class of 1964, Pharmacy

I was surprised and thrilled when I received a letter from Miss Siao-Mei Lin, the chief editor of NTU Alumni Bimonthly Magazine, this April, inviting me to write a remembrance of my youth about my experiences while I was a student at National Taiwan University (NTU).  I felt worried, because I wasn’t a strong writer in my class, but I felt exited too, and honored to be given the chance to turn back the clock and recall and write down some precious memories of the past.

After I was graduated in June 1964 from NTU’s School of Pharmacy, I worked at the injection division of the National Taiwan University Hospital for three months. The following year on January 17th, I arrived in New York City via Northwest Airlines. On the 19th, according the address and time on the envelope from Juilliard, I went to the school for my piano audition, and took the written theory test the day after that.  Three days afterwards I received an official letter of admittance, welcoming me to start classes at Juilliard next spring semester. I was so thrilled, as were my family and teachers in Taiwan!

People have often asked me why I first majored in such a difficult subject as pharmacy, and then switched to major in piano at such a difficult school like Juilliard.  My answer has been that I had a strong will, a capacity for hard work, and good luck that enabled me to surmount the many hardships and difficulties presented by these two very different fields which, together, eventually enriched and brightened my life.

My father, a violinist who graduated from Taiwan Medical School in 1924, founded and organized Chia-Yi Symphony Orchestra in 1948 -1953.  “My Remembrance of Dr. L.T. Chen (my father) and Chia-Yi Symphony Orchestra” was published in the second edition of Shen-Yo Music Books.  My mother, a pianist who was educated as a midwife but never worked professionally because she needed to look after her children, was my inspiration for studying piano. I am so grateful for my parents from their love and care, and for having been brought up in an environment so rich in music!

On February 8, 1953, I was named first place winner in a national piano competition for elementary school students sponsored by the Taiwan Cultural Association.  On March 21st, I performed my first public piano solo recital assisted by Chia-Yi Symphony Orchestra.  It was such a successful and memorable concert!   After much planning and consideration for their children’s education, my parents decided to move the family from Chia-Yi to the capital Taipei.  I became a transfer student from Chia-Yi Girls’ H.S. to Fu-Zhong H.S. in Taipei, continuing to attend experimental classes in math and science until graduation.

During my high school years, I studied piano with Prof. Tsai-Chian Chang, took dancing lessons with Ms. Zhui-Yueh Tsai, and performed a lot of piano chamber music with violinists Prof. David Tai (Dept. Chair of Taipei Normal Teachers College, who had studied in Vienna), Mr. Tchang-Qua Teng (President of National Music Research Institute and National Taiwan Arts Hall, who had studied in Belgium), and cellist Mr.Kuang-Zhong Chang (who had studied at Juilliard).  From our regular rehearsals and concerts, I had wonderful opportunities to learn a large repertoire with these top musicians and improve my musicality and artistic performance. For me it was a very important period of learning, studying, and development of a much higher and deeper understanding of music. Thus my desire for learning music was fed further and my wish to specialize in music was lit.

When the American conductor Dr. Thor Johnson came to Taiwan as a guest conductor in 1958, I had an opportunity to perform for him.  He was very impressed and recommended me for further study in the U.S.   It came as a thrill to learn that I had been granted a scholarship to study at Salem College in North Carolina.  I hoped to enter that college in America as soon as I graduated from high school in Taiwan.

Unfortunately, in 1958 there was no regulation at the Department of Education permitting high school graduates to go abroad. Only college graduates could do this.  So, in Taiwan, for my college education after Fu-Zhong H.S., I planned to attend the music department of Taipei Normal Teachers College via a special recommendation from H.S. to eliminate my having to take the general entrance examination.  However, my piano teacher Prof. Chang (a faculty member at the Music Department) didn’t recommend this academic track for me, because after four years of college study there were two more years of teaching requirements for graduates.  It would be a total of six years at the Normal Teachers College, which was not ideal. Plus, at Fu-Zhong H.S. I had attended special experimental science and math classes. Considering a more secure life after graduation in the job market, I took the college entrance examination for pharmacy. Fortunately, I passed the exam and entered four years of study at the college of pharmacy of National Taiwan University Medical School.

Right before taking the college entrance examination, I performed a televised solo piano concert at the National Taiwan Art Hall (NTAH) hosted by Mr. Tchang-Qua Teng (the founder and director of the NTAH and National Music Research Institute) on February 6, 1960.  He strongly recommendation me to the Department of Education, and again requested that I be granted an exceptional permission for a high school graduate to go abroad, but unfortunately my case was denied repeatedly. Nonetheless, this effort opened the door to the creation of a special regulation the very next year for students with exceptional talent in music to go abroad, and this regulation has been in effect since.

I matriculated with the pharmacy class of 1964 which included 20 students accepted from the college entrance examination and 11 overseas students, 16 males and 15 females.  Everyone was a top student, hardworking and intelligent.  It was only a pity that I didn’t live on campus, and when I was not in class or the laboratory, I was practicing piano at home, so that I had little time for hanging out with my classmates.  Yet many of them would attend concerts to support me when I performed solo or with the orchestra in Taiwan even after we graduated. While in school, I was a frequent performer playing on that well-known old piano in the medical auditorium.  I enjoyed playing recitals for many special school events.   My classmates always thought that I was a student from the music department, for I was an average student in our class.  During my four years in the school of pharmacy, I enjoyed tremendously being involved in a production of a class dramatic show our junior year and attending classes of specimen collecting, organic chemistry, analytic chemistry, pharmacology, biochemistry and more. From all the classes, I learned how to think, how to judge, and how to reason logically. These studies were helpful in forming me into an individual, independent being who would have a better idea how to contribute to the world.

While I was attending classes freshman year at NTU, I had no idea that my future husband Zane Kuo was already an intern at the Medical College. We didn’t meet each other until I came to New York to study at Juilliard.  Zane was an intern at Fordham Hospital in New York then. It was our fathers, who were alumni of Taiwan Medical School, who made sure that we met each other while we were in New York City.  Zane had studied piano for a few years with Ms. Jiu-Mei Kao while he was in National Taiwan University Medical School.  His undying support and encouragement for my career in piano in the years following goes without saying.

I would like to share with you some memorable concerts that I performed before I left Taiwan for the United States; perhaps the reader will be interested:

(1) Participated in a performance of the first concert of Composers’ Forums founded by composer Prof. Zhang-Hui Hsu (who studied in Paris), playing a composition by Mao-Liang Chen on March 3, 1961 in Taipei.

(2)Performed at Taipei Grand Hotel for the State Dinner hosted by the president of Peru, Dr. Don Manuel Prado, during his state visit to Taiwan on May 24, 1961.

(3)Performed a quartet concert with violinist Prof. David Tai, cellist Kwan-Zhon Chang, and one other performer in October, 1961.

(4)Performed a duo concert with violinist Miss Renee Fung (who studied in Paris) in Taipei on July 23, 1962, and then did a concert tour in Taiwan.

(5)First place winner in a piano competition sponsored by the International Taipei Women’s Association on March 10, 1963.

(6)Performed at a concert for the celebration of the anniversary of National Taiwan University and for the founding of the NTU Symphony Orchestra (NTUSO) on Nov. 13, 1963.

(7)Guest piano soloist, collaborated with guest conductor Prof. Robert Scholz (who studied in Vienna and who became my last piano teacher and mentor before my audition for Juilliard), performed Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody with the National Symphony Orchestra on Feb. 9, 1964.

(8)Was invited for a TV Interview and broadcast live performance on Nov. 9, 1964.

(9)Performed piano accompaniment in a concert for Hong Kong soprano, Ms. Susanna Chow (who studied in England and Rome) and Taiwanese bass-baritone Kwan Lin (who studied in Japan and Italy) on November 14, 1964 in Taipei, and then did a concert tour in Taiwan sponsored by the Taiwan Central Broadcasting Company.

On March 29, 2004, for a celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the National Taiwan University School of Pharmacy, I was invited by the program director, Zhang-Sian Zhang, class of 1968, to perform a full recital.  I was so thrilled to be back at the school of pharmacy to perform on this very special occasion! I was so proud and happy to be an alumna and to participate in this wonderful event in my life!

P.S.   I was glad to hear that the NTUSO performed a concert at the National Theatre on July 18, 2006 in commemoration of the 10th Anniversary of the passing of Prof. Tomotake Takasaka and the 40th Anniversary of the NTUSO.  From an e-mail sent by Dr. Po-Chiang Chuang (Medical School class of 1965, who played violin in the NTUSO on Nov. 13, 1963, the same day I played there), I was so happy to learn that this concert was very successful!  Later, I was very grateful to receive the concert program — more than 100 pages — by air-mail from him.  I wish NTUSO all the best for more wonderful concerts to come!  I also hope that in the future NTU will create a music department for gifted and talented students and as well offer classes of music appreciation!

1964 graduation from NTU Medical School
1958 portrait with parents and Yeumei Fang (2nd from left) after performance for Dr. Thor Johnson

This article was originally published in No. 54, November 1, 2007,
NTU Alumni Bimonthly Magazine.

Source from Rita Chen

Translated from 20. 我的青春紀事 / 陳芳玉, updated on 10/22/2020