Our World, His World

Robin Vallette

I first met Sam (then “Dr. Hsu”) when I enrolled at PCB in 1978. There he had demigod status and I kept a respectful distance despite the consolation of my roommate Karyn (Lunde) Knox, his beloved piano student since she was in elementary school. I think most students at PCB in those days (and not a few faculty members) shared that awe of Dr. Hsu, the musician and scholar. His talent, breadth and depth of knowledge were legendary. Sam remained on that pedestal for many years, although occasionally I was intrigued by stories of his adventures in the dorms and conversations in his studio that didn’t seem to jive with my perception. He was a man of mystery to me - and for a decade I respected that distance given many stars.

But over the last 25 years, that distance minimized and in the end I believe there was nothing “out of bounds” for our interest, personal or professional, mundane or profound. To us, Sam’s life was an open book and long ago we trespassed any boundaries, real or imagined.

As a freshman at PCB Steve endeared himself to Sam and forged an intentional connection to Steve’s Chilean roots through the artistry of Pablo Neruda and Claudio Arrau. With Sam, Steve assembled a harpsichord, toured the Steinway factory, trekked annually to and from Csehy summer music camp, endured the star-attraction turning pages for Sam at Valley Forge Music Fair, and actually met the acclaimed Claudio Arrau on the occasion of Arrau’s 80th birthday - all stories which Sam loved to recount and embellish. Thus they became entwined and Sam may have had something to do with Steve’s music internship at Tenth with Robert Elmore. When Steve’s interests became focused less on music and more on math, Sam again joined Steve’s world, conversing with genuine interest about hyperbolic paraboloids and Cartesian coordinates. He even ordered a set (!) of math books and a copy for Steve all in an effort to join Steve’s world. Sam celebrated Steve’s addition to the PBU faculty, primarily because of his investment and interest in Steve’s life but also because Steve’s addition to the faculty multiplied the number of Philadelphia residents on PBU’s census. Despite Steve’s shifting music-math focus, he kept one piano-tuning client: Sam.

Our relationship with Sam evolved when I began working at Lakeside School, joining the same teaching faculty as Steve. For a short time Lakeside was a partner organization for Csehy and Sam would joke about our having the same “boss”. At some time during this span “Dr. Hsu” became “Sam.”

Ever the romantic, Sam graciously played at our wedding, giving us a magical soundtrack from Debussy to Bach’s Two-Part Invention No.1. He welcomed and fostered our place at Tenth Presbyterian Church and shared our love of the city. We secured regular seats in the 18th Street balcony, communed at lunch or dim sum in Chinatown or Pete’s, and frequently savored coffee as Sam’s “other” parish, Parish 1.5 or as he pronounced us “the Sunday Breakfast Association.” Sam tolerated my prodding more recently regarding my choice for the Pastoral Search Committee, my prying regarding his health and retirement plans, and my invasions, which he called “Goodwill Hunting”. And we amused him in our care and concern, teasing, and sometime frivolity. Over the years he shared our grief and joy, the whole arc of life. He enriched us on many levels - all somehow difficult to reduce to words.

We admired and appreciated Sam’s god-like musicianship - we treasured his wisdom and encouragement, his prayer, his time, his interest in our lives, his example. But how we loved the man.
Sam's Chinese name means
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Sam in Austria with arms raised in praise

Robin and Steve Valette with Ivenette LaCount

Robin and Steve Valette at their wedding

Robin and Steve at Pete's, where they ofgten ate with Sam.

Above: 1) A favorite shot of Sam in front of the Alps, proclaiming "The Hills Are Alive!" 2) Steve and Robin Vallette with Ivenette LaCount - who with Sam made up the "Sunday Breakfast Association." 3) The Vallettes on their wedding day (Sam had many personal photos like these plastered on his fridge).4) The Vallettes - lunching at Pete's, sadly without Sam - just a few weeks after his death.