Yeh Sze-ya (葉思雅), an academic in obstetrics and gynecology living in Arcadia, California, has donated his collection of more than 10,000 classical music records and CDs to the Hsu-shih Music Library in Tainan.
Yeh and his wife, Grace Chang (張信惠), resolved to give away 4,350 vinyl records and 6,350 CDs, which became a huge three-month project, as they had to spend eight hours each day organizing and packing the items into more than 100 boxes so that the shipments would comply with customs regulations and international copyright rules.
“I knew it was a huge job, but doable,” the 82-year-old retired doctor said.
“If we can help younger people, then it is like extending our lives. The Western Paradise in Buddhism or Heaven in Christianity do not necessarily have to exist, as long as these experiences that once touched us can be passed down to the next generation,” he said.
After graduating from National Taiwan University College of Medicine, Yeh moved to the US in 1967 with his family to pursue an academic career at Yale University.
Working with his adviser Edward H. Hon — the researcher who invented the very first fetal monitor — Yeh got to use the machine before it was introduced to the world.
“Those academics’ names on textbooks, that used to feel distant and almighty, like God to me, became real people around me after I arrived in the US,” Yeh said. “It took three years to write an academic paper about a new concept, and another three years to turn it into a textbook, but in an environment like this, I got to learn about the most innovative ideas just by talking with people.”
Music is an interest that Yeh and his wife share. During their leisure time, they would drive for two hours from the Yale campus in New Haven to the New York Metropolitan Opera House, where they would skip meals to immerse themselves in musical performances day and night.
They bought a lot of their music collection after the concerts.
“I would set up rules for the number of records he could buy each time. Those old days were really fun,” his wife said.
Yeh eventually became the chairman and residency program director of obstetrics and gynecology at the Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia.
He retired at 65 in 2002 and spent time looking after Grace, who had had a mild stroke.
He began teaching a course on classical music appreciation in nursing homes in Philadelphia. His students’ average age was 78.
After moving to California in 2005, he began offering a course at the Taiwan Center Foundation of Greater Los Angeles, introducing choir members to the beauty of classical music.
“I want my students to know that musicians are not cold statues, but real humans with unique thoughts and emotions like all of us. They have strengths and flaws, too,” Yeh said.
Asked about the music collection he had amassed over 50 years, Yeh said he did not feel sad giving it away at all, as his wife and he had saved a treasured record to keep them company — Franz Schubert’s String Quintet performed by cellist Pablo Casals.
Just the mention of it brought a smile to Yeh’s face.
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