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SOU student's family left homeless after earthquake

Tang Di, a saxophone student at Southern Oregon University, was talking to his father in Sichuan Province at 11 p.m. on May 12 when the big earthquake hit and his father suddenly said, "Why are those buildings shaking?" There was shouting as his parents ran out of their fourth story apartment, dropping the cell phone on the way. It would be "a very long three minutes" before Tang Di got them back on the phone, to find that everyone was fine, but they would be living outside for a long while.

Tang Di, 21, is part of the Siskiyou Saxophone Orchestra, comprising students in Ashland and the Sichuan Conservatory of Music in the city of Chengdu in Sichuan Province — and his professor here, Rhett Bender, will fly to Chengdu on Monday to teach master classes and give lessons, if conditions allow.

"I'm going because I'm very close to these people and want to be there for them. They want to see me and it would help give them a sense of normalcy," says Bender, who is conductor of the unusual saxophone orchestra and last fall led a tour of the group in Shanghai.

When he asked what he could bring, he was told to bring a small tent.

Chengdu, a city of 11 million and the capital of Sichuan Province, is 55 miles from the 7.9 quake's epicenter of Wenchuan, and has suffered hundreds of deaths of the total of tens of thousands killed, said Tang Di.

"The buildings are fine. I call my parents every evening, when it's morning there. They say there's been 4,000 aftershocks. Families get together every evening by the river and drink tea. The government warns them not to go in buildings," says Tang Di.

The main relief efforts organized by the government, he adds, are giving out funds to rebuild and collecting donated blood for the injured.

SOU piano teacher Alexander Tutunov of the Chinese-American Piano Institute, based in Chengdu, was scheduled to go to that city with a student on May 20 to teach, but, because of the post-quake chaos, cancelled the visit.

Bender will fly into Beijing and is slated to spend two weeks in the country, but said local flights to Chengdu have been cancelled and he isn't sure if he can get there from the capital. He said he would post updates and pictures to his blog, rhettbender.blogspot.com.

Brent Weber, a former student of Bender's at SOU and now teaching at the Chengdu conservatory, reported on Bender's blog, "I was on the street level during the quake and none of my friends or students were injured. I was standing in front of the SCCM (conservatory) when the first tremor hit and felt the ground move for close to two minutes. Luckily, the police were very organized and put us at ease. Now, we're all mourning the losses of the many in Sichuan Province." Bender's counterpart in China, director Yusheng Li, wrote on the blog, "Brent, I and my family are well in the quake, Our experience is very dangerous yesterday, but we are safe today. Power, water and food, traffic same as usual."

Wenjun Qi, an 18-year old female saxophone player who will come to SOU to study next year, wrote, "I am OK now. When earthquake happened, I was in practice room which is 15th floor. I quickly know what had happened and let other students who in the same floor ran down. Earthquake shake very heavily, our practice building was leant to one side "¦ Everybody feel nervous, some boys and girls cried. I thought it is so danger."

The exchange and training of saxophone players grows from the intense appreciation of the instrument in China, says Tang Di.

"It is sexy. Everyone knows it is a cool instrument," says Tang Di, adding that saxophonist Kenny G and all types of light jazz are very popular in his homeland.

The Siskiyou Saxophone Orchestra has just released a CD of its music and has cuts viewable on YouTube, with information and links posted on Bender's Web site at bendersaxophone.googlepages.com/home online.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Southern Oregon University saxophone player Tang Di talks about the earthquake that has devastated parts of his homeland in China. His professor, SOU music instructor Rhett Bender, left, will be going to the quake area to teach this week. Jim Craven 5/22/2008 - Jim Craven