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Student Art and Music Helps Launch New SAS Alumni Book

March, 2012
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sas_dekeerh004Hundreds of Shanghai American School (SAS) parents, teachers, staff and students crammed the Deke Erh Gallery in downtown Shanghai on February 12th to celebrate the launch of Erh’s new book and the opening of the SAS Student Centennial Arts Exhibition. The gallery – housed in a converted factory in the trendy boutique-and-café enclave of Tianzifang on Taikang Road – was hung with more than 75 works of art created by SAS students at all grade levels, selected by art teachers across the school.

The opening also featured a number of wonderful performances by various brass and woodwind ensembles from SAS High School, Pudong campus. The groups played a selection of classical and big band tunes as well as two SAS school songs: the 1948-49 “All Hail to Thee, Our Alma Mater Blest,” then the new “Shanghai American School – You Belong!” composed (and sung) by SAS Pudong music teacher John Leonard.

The book, entitled “Deke Erh and 86 Shanghai American School Students and Teachers, 1937-1949,” is a collection of the stories of students, and a few teachers, from the pre-1949 era of SAS. Erh, a well-known Shanghai photographer and recorder of the city’s recent history, has spent the past few years collecting these stories through interviews and email exchanges with alumni, mostly in the US. He even attended an SAS alumni reunion in Salem, Massachusetts, in 2008, where he “set up shop around the clock” and interviewed more than 50 alumni and received dozens of photographs – some close to 100 years old - -of childhoods spent in China.

Erh’s longtime interest in SAS stems from his belief that his father may have attended the school, though he has so far been unable to find proof of this, despite his and SAS staff’s best efforts to scour records and yearbooks. He does remember an uncle seeing a photo of the old SAS buildings on Hengshan Road, only a few blocks from his family’s house, and saying, “Your father learned his fluent English in that Elementary School.” Erh’s father died during the Cultural Revolution and he never had the chance to ask him more about his past.

A number of speakers addressed the crowds at the gallery. Joe Wampler, who attended SAS as a sophomore in 1948-49 and came down from his temporary assignment in Beijing especially for the opening, held up a picture of the Chinese character “cang,” which meant, “to preserve, or to hide,” he explained. “To add something to historical archives in Chinese culture has the sense of ‘hiding’ it,” said Wampler, adding that Erh’s book was doing the opposite: “Deke’s book is exposing historical facts; that’s why it’s important.” Also on hand among pre-1949 alumni was Betty Barr Wang, who has spent 45 of her 79 years in Shanghai. “I think this book is unique in that it tells the stories of 86 people in the first person, and often stories about their parents too,” said Barr, who was part of the editorial team that helped put the book together.

 “This is a great opportunity for our young artists and musicians to display their work in a professional gallery, and for SAS to celebrate its deep roots in the Shanghai community,” said Centennial Coordinator Cindy Easton, who organized the event. “This exhibit really showed the best of Shanghai and of SAS.”

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