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Rita Kuo

Rita Chen Kuo

Friday, March 21st, 1941 - Saturday, June 27th, 2020
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Obituary

Rita (Fang-Yuh) Chen Kuo passed away on June 27, 2020, after a brief illness. She was born in Taipei, Taiwan, on March 21, 1941 to Dr. and Mrs. Liang-Tsang Chen. Rita grew up in Taiwan, first in Chiayi and then in Taipei, earning a BS in Pharmacy in 1964 at National Taiwan University. She moved to New York City in 1965 where she became the first Taiwanese to study at The Juilliard School, receiving a Diploma in 1967 and Postgraduate Diploma in 1968 in Piano. At Juilliard Rita studied piano with James Friskin, Martin Canin and Rosina Lhevinne, the famous pedagogue, and composition with Bernard Wagenaar. Her music training fully realized, she would henceforth share her musical gifts in an astonishing number of ways – as performer, composer, teacher, writer, and leader of organizations.

Rita moved to Scarsdale (Edgemont), NY in 1974 where she would live for the rest of her life. From this home base, Rita performed throughout the New York City area and her native Taiwan, including notable performances with the Juilliard Orchestra, Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra, Taiwan Symphony Orchestra, and the Taipei City Symphony Orchestra. In 2001 she founded and toured with the Global Harmony Ensemble in the US, Canada, and Taiwan. As a composer Rita wrote pieces for piano and for voice that were premiered in the US and Taiwan. She often incorporated traditional Taiwanese and Chinese folk songs into compositions.

Devoted to students, Rita taught piano privately for over 45 years and at the Westchester Conservatory of Music where she became emerita a few years ago. Her students adored her and remember her lively voice, her tireless dedication, and her attention to detail and preparation as they learned to love music as much as she did.

Rita strongly supported music education and held leadership roles in the New York State Music Teachers Association, National Music Teachers Association, and Westchester Musician’s Guild. She was a founding member of the Westchester Taiwanese Women’s Association and a Life Member of the Scarsdale Woman’s Club. A much-appreciated recitalist over the years at the Woman's Club, she also often invited virtuosic jazz and classical musical colleagues to join her in performances there. Her many acknowledgements included the Outstanding Achievement Award for the Arts from the YWCA White Plains & Central Westchester in 2002, the Dynamic Achiever Award from the OCA Westchester & Hudson Valley Chapter in 2002, Outstanding Taiwanese American from the Taiwanese American Archives in 2018, and the Outstanding Alumni Award from the National Taiwan University School of Pharmacy in 2020.

In her spare time, Rita enjoyed travel, walking and photography, frequently with her husband of 55 years, Dr. Zane Chi-Yen Kuo, at her side. Most days Rita and Zane could be found walking around Swan Lake at the Rockefeller State Park Preserve. A lifelong Catholic, Rita worshipped at the Church of the Sacred Heart in Hartsdale. She was a phenomenal cook who never used a cookbook and welcomed everyone into her home as if they were already lifelong friends. Everyone remembers her boundless energy, warmth, and endless youth. She never retired and taught piano full time right up to her final illness.

Rita was immensely proud of the many accomplishments of her immediate and large extended family. She is survived by her husband; her sons, Edwin Kuo (Joan) of Pleasantville, NY, and Dennis Kuo (Kathrine) of Amherst, NY; and her grandchildren, Rebecca, Amanda, and Alex. She is also survived by her brother Richard; her sisters, Grace, Lorraine, Elizabeth, and Anita; and many nieces and nephews.

A private ceremony is planned with a memorial service at a later date. In lieu of flowers, contributions in her name may be made to New York State Music Teachers Association District 4 to support the Rita Chen Kuo Memorial Fund for young musicians http://nysmtadistrict4.org/rita-chen-kuo-memorial-fund/); or to the Friends of the Rockefeller State Park Preserve (https://www.friendsrock.org/membership-and-donation).
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Service Details

  • Interment

    Location
    Ferncliff Cemetery
    Address
    280-284 Secor Road
    HARTSDALE, NY 10530
    Get Directions: View Map | Text | Email
    Notes
    Private burial.

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Phyllis Li

Posted at 09:04pm
Dear Rita, 

A week ago, I found out that you passed away, and I was so overcome with grief. About a month ago, I found myself thinking about you a lot. During this period of quarantine, my world had been void of so much art and beauty and I found myself longing for music in my life. So I ordered a keyboard from Amazon and some piano books and eagerly awaited its delivery to my apartment in Brooklyn. After some deliberation, we decided to place it in my bedroom, facing a large window that overlooks an entrance to the park. It was perfect. Now, when I wake up in the morning, my piano is right there beside me and it faithfully greets me every evening when I turn in for the night. 

I am married and have two kids now. Cameron is my son who is 6 and Chloe is my daughter who is 4.  I wish I had the chance to talk to you, to see you and tell you where I am in my life now. I was reflecting on what it means to be a teacher and I realize now how sacrificial and loving it is to pour hours of yourself and your time into molding and shaping a child, without knowing if you will ever have the opportunity to see who they become or what they one day decide to do with the gifts you impart on them.

And while I try really hard not to berate myself for not reaching out to you just one month earlier, it's hard. I wish I could've seen your face and heard your voice, to tell you how meaningful my piano lessons with you were.  

Since I got my keyboard, I've been working my way through Bach inventions and re-imagining my piano lessons with you.  I would picture you behind my shoulder, reading the music alongside me, nodding to the rhythm and swaying with the melody as it flowed through you.  I secretly imagined that I would have a lesson with you that week and I looked forward to showing you the piece that I learned.  I hoped that we could have a video call and that I could play a song for you, that I could introduce you to my son who has been studying the violin, and with whom I've been having a wonderful time accompanying on the piano.  

I would tell you about all the joy and love I now feel in my heart and in my ears when I play. I would tell you about how I finally found the courage to play in the dark and with my eyes closed, and how much more the music moves me now because my heart has grown to hold more love than it did when I was 13.  And with a bigger heart I can now experience the music more fully.  It is so much more than a series of notes and rhythms to be memorized and executed on. It is art and emotion and memory and tears. It's joy and sadness, playfulness and mischief, conflict and fear remedied with closure and relief. It is so much more than I knew back then and I know it because you taught me all of those things. 

I would tell you that your teachings, while I didn't fully understand them back then, are coming to me now like a tidal wave of beauty and emotion.  Thank you for showing me how to love music, how to be challenged and humbled before it and how to feel proud from mastering it as well, for teaching me how to enjoy music by dancing with it and allowing it to change and transform me.  Thank you for all of those Saturday afternoons in your living room where you diligently taught me with the same unwavering level of dedication week after week, despite how much or little I practiced and despite what adolescent mood I decided to wear on that particular day.  I know that this gift lives not only in me, but also in the lives and hearts of the many people that you have taught.   

Since I learned of your passing, I've been afraid to play classical music on the piano.  I'm afraid that the music will sound different or that my experience of it will be less rich and meaningful knowing that you are no longer with us.  I'm afraid that when I start playing, it will hurt too much to remember and feel your loss.  As difficult as it is, I also know that you would want me to continue playing and to keep practicing.  And while I didn't get a chance to speak to you before you passed, I'm thankful that I still have some of your words to hold on to because a few years ago, I found a sheet of paper tucked away in one of my old piano books. It was a handwritten note from you preparing me for an audition.   As I read the words on the page, I felt a wince of shame as I imagined my 13 year old self glancing over it and then tossing it to the side, but as an adult, I found myself starting to cry as I saw with clear eyes the beauty and the wisdom in your words.  So to borrow from a few of your own words: 

Rita, I promise to practice slowly in the dark or with my eyes closed, to see if I can think and concentrate and hear the music inside my heart and ears, to project & convey the composer's and my idea when I play, to familiarize myself with the piano, keys, pedal and to count before playing, to play with love, pleasure, dedication & peace, and to bring these elements plus music that I've mastered.   Rita, you will always be in my heart when I play.  Thank you for everything you've taught me.  

Love,
Phyllis 
CJ

Christine Johannsen

Posted at 02:08pm
Rita and I have been piano teacher colleagues in the New York State Music Teachers Association (NYSMTA), District 4, for many years. I first met Rita when she presented at a workshop at Hoff Barthelson Music School, demonstrating how to teach composition to young students. She was the main presenter-- or at least the only one I remember. Three young students, whom she was meeting for the first time, sat with her at piano in turn, while we, the audience, observed her jump-start the students' musical compositions. She began by asking the students if they had a favorite pet, or something they loved doing, or a place they enjoyed visiting, until she received an enthusiastic response. Then she pounced on that subject and peppered the students with questions about how the critter or action or location might sound. The students helped create the sounds and then Rita assisted with the notation. I was intrigued. Look at how she got these children to compose!

Whether that workshop was before or after I began assisting Judy Gutmann with the District 4 Young Originals Composition Project, I am not sure. I do, however, remember that the student contributions from Rita and Rosalyn Toby made the Young Originals Publication very thick and the program's annual concerts so much fun. The compositions written by Rita's students were clever and beautiful and won first place in the New York State Composition Competition multiple times. Little wonder-- Rita's own compositions were so beautiful. I only heard a handful of her pieces for voice and piano, years ago at one of the end-of-year District 4 members' meeting and performances. They were captivating and gorgeous.

Rita also ran the District 4 Musicianship Festival like a top (with the assistance of Josephine Caruso) for years. Now that I run the festival, I understand the magnitude of what she did and have yet to run the event as smoothly!

Rita cared for and loved all of us. Every holiday, she took the time to share with us through email, the trees, ducks, or flower blossoms she captured through her camera lens. She loved being in nature. One time she and her husband came up to my home in Carmel to pick up trophies for her students. They left with the trophies and a Japanese Red Maple sapling from the woods surrounding my home. Through the years, she reported that the tree was doing quite well in her yard. Somehow, that makes me feel happy to think I added some beauty to her life as well.

She will be sorely missed and never forgotten.

Sad to say good-bye, but so happy to have known Rita--
Christine Johannsen

Karen Schwartz

Posted at 12:11pm
I had the distinct honor of accompanying Rita at the Westchester Piano Guild while she was preparing for her performance of "Liszt Rhapsody on Hungarian Folk Tunes" this past Fall. We had a fantastic experience together preparing, performing and dining together afterwards with Zane. What a dynamic lady Rita was. Always the ultimate professional.
On a more personal note, Rita was a good friend of my Mom, Ellie Schwartz, also a WPG member. I met Rita quite by coincidence while judging a competition in Briarcliff a few years back. Since it had been many years since my Mom's passing, Rita and my meeing was a particlarly poignant one. I send my most sincere condolences to the family and friends of Rita. She will be sorely missed.
 

Karen Schwartz Posted at 12:12pm

I am sorry about the upside down appearance
BM

Bari Mort-Zieff

Posted at 08:58am
Here's Rita from a NYSMTA district 4 board meeting in 2012. It was she who rallied to take a picture! :-)
HW

Hui-Mei Lin and Sheng-Hui Wu

Posted at 08:45pm
From Hui-Mei: Most people know Rita as a poised, serious pianist and teacher. But there's a really fun side of her that most do not see. I met her in 1983, coming out of Juilliard and living in Westchester. She and Anna Mi Lee introduced me to the musicians in the area. Just two months ago, she asked me what Face Time was, so I called her with it. She was SO excited to see my face on the phone, clapping her hands and giggling like a kid. I am glad she was able to use it to teach as a result.

Whenever Sheng-Hui Wu and I get together with her, we spoke in Taiwanese dialect. Perhaps because it's the dialect that we spoke in our childhood, we instantly revert to being child-like. We got together once a year for lunch in June, and always laughed and giggled through the whole meal, such fun times.

From Sheng-Hui: I talked to Rita shortly before she went into the hospital. She told me that she was going to be a "bride" again (55th anniversary), and was going to prepare a special lobster dinner. I said to her, "Don't you have high cholesterol? what are you doing eating lobster?" She said, "It doesn't matter, once a year cholesterol can have a little fun."

We love you Rita, thank you for your wisdom, laughter, and friendship. You will always be in our hearts.
Hui-Mei Lin and Shen-Hui Wu
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