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).