Below, Sam studying with
Martin Canin, which he did
once a month for nearly 40 years.
Sam at a lesson with Martin Canin

Sam considered his gifts to be God-given and he wanted to keep them sharp. I am reminded of the parable of the talents in Matthew 25. In my estimation, Sam more than doubled what the Lord gave him. What an example of stewardship.

Ken with Sam

A Long Perspective

Ken Borrmann

In my world, Samuel Hsu was a distinguished professor, a perpetual student, a mentor, a colleague and a friend. Sam went to PBU with my brother, so I knew about Sam before our paths first crossed in the summer of 1974 at the Csehy Summer School of Music. My first lessons with Sam occurred the following summer and it must have proved memorable for him because he decreed that I was a lazy learner. Not wanting to give him the opportunity to repeat that assessment, I practiced diligently and played again for him at my PBU audition in 1978. Thankfully, my playing and his evaluation were better, so I spent the next five years as his student.

My first year at PBU was the last year PBU was located in center city Philadelphia. This gave me the opportunity to experience city life and the 8th floor of 1800 Arch St. The 8th floor was where the music department held their classes and where the applied lessons were taught. I remember my first semester studying the Grieg Piano Concerto with Dr. Hsu on his Yamaha. I performed the first movement of the concerto in the first general recital of the semester and it must have gone well because a few days later I was asked to perform it in chapel because the scheduled speaker had cancelled. Dr. Hsu accompanied me on the second piano for both performances and I discovered something that I experienced many times in my musical collaborations with him. He had two tempos, one for rehearsal, another for performance and the performance tempo was almost always faster. As the years went by, I realized that slowing him down was not an option, so I just practiced at a faster tempo. Those experiences were valued as joyous times of music making but also as learning experiences. I think it may be accurate to say that once a student of Dr. Hsu’s, always a student. Many times I would tell him how much I enjoyed hearing him play and expressed that his teaching continued through his playing. I’m not sure he always believed me, but it was true, at least for me.

My relationship with him changed when in 1994 I was invited to join the PBU piano faculty. I taught in his office on Fridays since that was the day he did not come on campus. In 2001, I became a full-time faculty member and acquired my own office. When I was teaching part-time, Sam had given me the freedom to borrow whatever I needed from his office but, when I became full-time, I sensed he wasn’t convinced that I just didn’t let myself into his office and continue borrowing, though the gleam in his eye seemed to betray his words.

One thing he seldom spoke about unless asked, was his continued studies with Martin Canin. He had mentioned once when I was a student that I should play for Mr. Canin, but I never took advantage of the opportunity, that is, until 2004. Sam graciously made the contact and at Mr. Canin’s approval, my studies with him began. As I prepared for my first lesson, I inquired of Sam what areas of the repertoire were specialties of Mr. Canin. Sam said that he was great at everything. The answer didn’t surprise me, not because I thought less of Martin Canin but because Sam being Sam didn’t give me a straight answer. The week after that lesson Sam asked what I had played. When I mentioned Beethoven, he beamed, “Oh, that’s Marty’s specialty.” I should have known! While I treasure my studies with Martin Canin, the point that needs to be made is: Sam had an almost 40 year relationship with him. Sam considered his gifts to be God-given and he wanted to keep them sharp. I am reminded of the parable of the talents in Matthew 25. In my estimation, Sam more than doubled what the Lord gave him. What an example of stewardship.

I feel that my richest times with Sam came in the past few years. In March 2010, we traveled to New York City for Mr. Canin’s 80th birthday party in Steinway Hall. There in the program was a list of Mr. Canin’s students in attendance with their years of study. Nobody even came close to Sam’s achievement and while he didn’t play in the program, I got the impression he came away very satisfied. A month later, Mr. Canin came to PBU and gave a master class. From the moment I picked Sam up at the train station in the morning, until way after the class had concluded, Sam was in his glory. His mentor from Juilliard had come to PBU. The year was also special because of Sam’s many piano recitals honoring the 200th birthday of Frederic Chopin, the last of these being his first solo recital at PBU since 1969. But, the year was not over. We found out earlier in the fall that there was the possibility PBU might soon be able to purchase a new Steinway D, a concert grand piano. December rolled around and the possibility became a reality. The day was Friday, December 17th and we were off to the Steinway factory in New York to make the selection. I do not know what Sam was like as a child on Christmas morning but, seeing him that day gave me a pretty good idea. We tried out five different Steinways not saying a word to each other. Finally, after we had each played all of them, he turned and asked me which one I liked. When I mentioned the one I initially preferred, he gave me a puzzled look, followed by a dramatic pause, followed by a smile and an acknowledgement that it was the same piano he liked. We ended up selecting another piano, but that’s another story.

The dedication concert for Steinway 588833 was just two months before the accident and it will remain with me for the rest of my life. Sam and I were both scheduled to perform a concerto with the PBU symphony orchestra. Thankfully, he was scheduled to play after me, allowing me to appreciate first hand his final PBU performance. After our participation in the pre-concert chat, he apologized to me knowing that he would not be able to hear my performance. He needed to prepare himself for his performance and I certainly understood. After the intermission, he took the stage and played Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto. His playing that evening was magical and his performance expressed his joy over the acquisition of the new Steinway D. This brings to mind another thought. Sam always relied on God’s provisions and he knew they would always arrive at just the right time.

I want to finish with a portion of a tribute I wrote to the Professors of the Year Selection Committee several years ago:

Dr. Samuel Hsu’s impact on students is obvious to those who know him. He takes a personal interest in the student both as an individual and as a musician. The highest goal is set before those who study with him, whether in the classroom or in the studio. To accomplish one’s fullest potential for God’s glory is consistent in his interaction with them. Many of his students, including myself, have been influenced for further study and continual study. This is further illustrated by his continued study of a craft that is already of a high order. His performances have taken him from the local church to the stage of Carnegie Hall. Whether, in solo work or as an accompanist, in a small church or on a great stage, his professionalism remains the same. This serves as a prime example of what he expects and desires of his students and is a model for those who work with him.

As an educator, his goal is not to have the student remember facts, but as he puts it, “to come to grips with” why it is the way it is. He desires the student to think for themselves and to develop an environment of perpetual learning beyond the classroom. Of course, this cannot help but influence those who are his colleagues. His standards influence all those around him and he is highly respected by the faculty not only for his skill but for his insights on issues as they arise.

Samuel Hsu could have taught anywhere, but he felt his calling was to please God through his life and art at PBU. His life reflected the love he had for his Savior, a fact he was quick to acknowledge. I was privileged to watch how God used Sam in the lives of students and his colleagues and I count it a blessing to have had him in my life. His legacy will continue in the lives of all his “students” because God is faithful.

Sam's Chinese name means
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Above, Sam and Ken with
their teacher Martin Canin,
celebrating his 80th birthday.
Below, Mr. Canin some years ago.