His first music class

While thinking of his childhood, “poverty and difficulty” are the two words Professor Yau-tai Hwang used to briefly describe his whole experience of growing up.

He was born into a scholarly family.  His father, Mr. Chan-chung Hwang, was a gentleman who was very interested in improving the quality of local education.  Unfortunately, after his father died at a very early age, his family situation grew increasingly worse.  As a result, debts constantly piled up. When he was seven years old, he began attending the Chiing Primary School, which his father had planned to establish before his death.  During his period of study there, he was very much influenced and motivated by the Principal, Mr. Lan-chi Ye, who encouraged him to study Chinese painting and calligraphy and to immerse himself in Chinese literature.  As a result, he acquired an excellent foundation in Chinese literature.

At 10 years of age, he transferred to another public school.  A music teacher there observed and appreciated his natural talent for music, and gave him special permission to play the organ.  What an amazing thing!  He was able to play the melody with his right hand and the harmonizing chords with his left hand.  It seemed as if this first music class was like a flower fairy, who planted the first seed of music in his musical garden.

Suffering and difficulty

In 1922, the Chinese warlords started armed rebellions, and his family was almost destroyed by the war.  He and his fourth elder brother had to move south to Guang-zhou City.  There, he stayed with his big sister and studied at an experimental primary school, supervised by a teacher in the college.  Because he was dependent on others for a living, the 11- year old boy learned how to be patient and keep silent, and how to regard an unpleasant task as an opportunity for learning and discipline.

After his fourth elder brother died of illness, he moved into the school dormitory.  For eleven and a half years (from then until he graduated from the teacher’s college), he lived there and looked upon it as his home.

After entering high school, he took rigorous training as a boy scout.  Because of his excellent performance and his willingness to earn money for a living, the scout headquarters asked him to be a scout teacher at a primary school.  After that, he got a part-time job teaching Chinese and English.  At the same time, he drew physiological illustrations for the faculty of medicine, and quite often wrote prose and novels, which were published in various magazines.

In facing suffering and difficulty, he had a positive attitude and felt like having a difficult time was like eating nourishing food.  He also realized that fortune and misfortune are often interwoven with each other.  These experiences helped him to be a great musician and an all-round philosopher in the art of living, as well.

The philosophy of becoming something from nothing

His third elder brother formed a Chinese music orchestra while he was studying at the teachers’ college.  Hwang Yau-tai, motivated by his brother, joined the orchestra, and without any formal training, learned to play many Chinese instruments, including the dulcimer, two-stringed violin, moon guitar, qinchin, etc.

One day when Hwang Yau-tai was ill, a friend loaned him a western style violin.  To the surprise of many people, he learned to play it in the style of the Chinese two-stringed violin.  Although the method was incorrect, the music was very moving.  The first violin he owned was bought for him by his second elder sister, who bought it by getting money through a private loan.

He had no piano, so in order to study music theory, harmony and sight reading, he put a paper on a box, drew a piano keyboard and practiced in this way.  His willpower to become successful with almost no resources is very remarkable and admirable.

Dream of further education

In 1930 when he was 19 years of age, he was studying in the Department of Education at the National Sun Yat-sen University in Guang-zhou.  At that time, he was already determined to use music as a tool in his education.  In order to learn to play the piano, he often practiced into the middle of the night.  He was very fortunate in having the opportunity to study with Ms. Yu-ye Lee, who returned from Canada after pursuing study in the field of music.  Because of her encouragement, even though he had to both study and work, he continued to practice piano, and study theory and composition.

In 1936, he passed an advanced degree in violin, given by Trinity College in England.The Double-Seven Battle occurred the next year, preventing him from fulfilling his dream of further study overseas.  It was not until 1955 that he obtained his violin teaching certificate from the Royal Music College in London by taking the exam given to students overseas.

Being involved in a new music movement

From 1937 to 1945 during the time of the war against Japan, Hwang Yau-tai became involved in a new music movement.  As the government was promoting the idea of saving the country with music, he wrote many compositions, some of which were sung nationwide.  Examples include works such as, “The Hometown toWhich I Cannot Return,” “An Azalea,” “and “Moon Song.”  These works confirmed his status in the area of composition.

Later, he was invited to work for a team to train cadres.  During this time, he cooperated with Mr. Bi-ming Ren and finished several works for mixed chorus including, “A Training Song for Cadre Members,” “A Welcome to the Year of Victory,” “The Joy of Victory,” “New Life,” “A Song of Departing,” “Evoking Spirit Song,” “Moonlight,” etc.  These songs are both epic poems and a collection of works commemorating the eight years of war against the Japanese.

During this period, Hwang Yau-tai was not only a composer, but also a performer and speaker.  Because he was both destitute and homeless, he industriously devoted himself to music education.

A model musical scholar

During the final years of the war against Japan, Mr. Hwang taught in the teachers’ college of National Sun Yat-sen University.  In his spare time, he did research in the area of Chinese Classical Music and issued many articles relating to music education.  As a result, he was promoted to the position of professor within only a few years.  He became a model musical scholar.

Moving to Hong Kong

When Mainland China became Communist, Mr. Hwang moved to Hong Kong and became a teacher in the Deming High School, Datong High School, and Zhuhai College, respectively.  While there, he had the opportunity to cooperate with two famous composers, Shao Lee and Jian-wu Cheng, and completed several patriotic anti-communist songs such as, “I Want to Go Home,” “North Wind,” “Mournful Mid-Autumn Festival,” “Cold Night,” “Red Lantern,” and “Love for Mother Country.”

In 1952, he received an invitation from a respected teacher, Yan-fen Zheng, to hold a concert at Zhong-Shan Hall in Taipei.  At this time, he met prose writer Mei-yin Zhong, and they colaborated in writing, “Clouds in the Sky at Sunset.”

In 1957 he had the opportunity to go to Rome and study further skills in Chinese music form Professor Franco Margola and Edgardo Carducci.  In 1963, at the age of 46, he returned to Hong Kong and resumed his positions at Datong High School and Zhuhai College.  During this time his time was filled with repaying debts, composing, and writing articles.

It was also at this period that he made a lasting friendship with two professors: Sheng-si Lin and Han-zhang Wei.  They collaborated on various musical works and called themselves “Three Friends in Winter.”

Moving to Kaohsiung

Hwang Yau-tai retired from Zhuhai College in 1987 and moved to Kaohsiung.  Since that time he has been assisting various musical groups there.  He has continued to compose works for chorus, write school songs for schools and military songs for the Ministry of Defense.  He has also composed some pieces for Buddhist groups.  In these works, he shows an artistic appreciation of Buddhist culture and feelings.

He has created countless works that have received many awards.  In particular, he has received invitations from both former president Chiang Kai-shek and Lee Teng-hui, who have praised his contributions to music and Chinese culture.


Tireless teaching

Now, Professor Hwang is 91 years old—as old as the Republic of China.  Nevertheless, he is still extremely healthy and handles things in his daily life without assistance.  He still attends many musical activities and concerts, and often helps in the preparation of concerts.  He pays attention to all aspects of the performance such as rhythm, fingering, sound, and expression.  When conducting, he is energetic during the entire concert—more active than any young man.

A paragon of virtue

Since he was very young, Professor Hwang Yau-tai has shared with the Chinese people their misery, bringing music education and composing musical works for the public everywhere.  Music education has been his one and only mission in life.  From youth to old age, he has been diligent in composing, writing, and teaching—and all of this tirelessly.

After such a long time of difficulty and training, his works now bear fruition.  He is a paragon of virtue.

He says: 
Life is a battle of keen competition, a willing sacrifice for people.

Writer:Jan CHANG  &  Hsien-cheng HUANG