Dr. Samuel Hsu

Absent From the Body…

I lost a mentor today.

Dr. Samuel Hsu was a brilliant musician, a keen humorist, and the best history teacher I’ve ever had. He understood that learning isn’t all about disconnected facts. He knew how to illuminate the connections between things, from musical styles to psychological fads.

His humor was silly but irresistible. (He’d say something absurd, like, “What do you call hamburgers at the beach? Sandy Patty!” Then he’d laugh, quietly and endearingly, and in spite of all reason, you’d laugh with him.)

His patience was legendary. I know I wasn’t the only student to have an emotional breakdown of some kind during lessons, reaching critical mass via the magic of music and life changes. He was also a not-so-secret matchmaker, and delighted in watching young love bloom the way small children are delighted with exotic animals: not for him, but fascinating to watch.

He was one of the most brilliant musicians I’ve ever know, drawing delicate sounds from the piano as if it coaxing it to sing with human voice.

He was my friend.

One semester, I was having a particularly bad time. Family conflict kept me awake at night. Diabetes made me sick and afraid. My right arm was injured, and with it in a sling, I still had to pursue a major in Piano Performance (you would never believe the pieces available for one-handed pianists, but that’s another story).

I went to my piano lesson one day on the edge of tears, and there was Dr. Hsu waiting for me with a piece of paper on which he’d typed this song from Michael Card:

There is a joy in the journey
There’s a light we can love on the way
There is a wonder and wildness to life
And freedom for those who obey

And all those who seek it shall find it
A pardon for all who believe
Hope for the hopeless and sight for the blind

To all who’ve been born of the Spirit
And who share incarnation with Him
Who belong to eternity stranded in time
And weary of struggling with sin

Forget not the hope that’s before you
And never stop counting the cost
Remember the hopelessness when you were lost

Dr. Samuel Hsu and the Steinway
Dr. Samuel Hsu and the Steinway

“The joy, Ruthanne, is in the journey,” he said in his quiet voice. “It is in the journey. Do you see? Not in the destination, and not in what hurts you now. It is in the journey. You must align your focus to lose this sadness.”

My assignment for that “piano” lesson was to find and listen to this music in the school library until I understood it.

Dr. Hsu was far more than a piano teacher. He was a life-teacher, and he taught me never to take myself too seriously while still being serious about hard work.

Sandy Patty, indeed.

Someday, Dr. Hsu, I’ll see you again – but I still don’t think I’ll be able to call you “Sam.”

From 1 Peter 5:10:
And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

9 thoughts on “Absent From the Body…”

  1. Ruthann,
    Thank you so much for sharing! I understand when you said, ” He was a life-teacher, and he taught me never to take myself too seriously while still being serious about hard work.” I seriously was just thinking about that this morning! I also remember the first time I met him..I felt awkward around him thinking he was this ‘serious’ professor but then he said one day in our music history class: “Hello Brrrrrenda.. how are you today?” I think when he rolled the ‘r’ in my name (and it became a joke every time I saw him) I knew he had a humorous side to him. He was a great man of God and will be missed, but I know one day we will worship Jesus all together! That I look forward to!

  2. Ruthann, thanks for your post and I lvoed the joke. For me, I always found it very hard to call him Dr. Hsu. When I came to PBU, then PCB in downtown Philadelphia, Sam Hsu was a piano major there studying with Dr. Virginia Brubaker (she is in a nursing facility in Wilmore, Kentucky now) under Dr. Alfred Lunde’s leadership of the music department. I along with Joan Cantrick, Darwin Beale, Sharon Strauss and several others in the fledgling years of the 5-year double degree music major were piano majors along with Sam, but he of course had an amazing gift that surpassed any of our abilities, and so we enjoyed his gift, getting a chance now and then to listen to him play on the grand in the chapel when he was practicing and enjoying his recital performances!! How beautifully he played and his life was a blessing to us his classmates. I particularly loved his impressionistic rendition of Beneath the Cross of Jesus and eventually memorized it and played it with the chorale the year I was chorale pianist—a special dream fulfilled for me. Our paths crossed once or twice at PBU reunions, and it was very hard to call him Dr. Hsu—I still felt like a college student friend inside! Sam, you are with the Lord—we will see you again!

    1. Thank you so much for this comment, Ellen! I couldn’t agree with you more – and I also cannot wait to hear him play on the other side. I really appreciate you contacting me. It’s a blessing – and a fantastic example – of how many lives Dr. Hsu touched through Christ’s love.

  3. Debbie Wright nee Blight

    Dear Ruthanne,
    Thank you for a well said eulogy of this fine Christian gentleman. He was my piano teacher and theory mentor as well.
    True, he had a great source of patience while he taught me. I have very fond memories of him while at PCB in 1975.

  4. Dear Ruthanne,
    I appreciate your memories of Dr. Hsu very much. I would like your permission to post on my wall your experiences with Dr. Hsu especially the story of the piece of paper and his words of comfort that “the joy is in the journey…” As Dr. Hsu would probably say, “all glory be to God”.

    May God bless you richly as you bless others with your words.

    Thank you,
    Helen Hui
    Dr. Hsu’s sister-in-law

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