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Douglas Nagel isn’t wasting any time.

Last month, he bid adieu to Rimrock Opera Company after serving as artistic director for more than a decade and in June, he leaves for a monthlong teaching stint in Zhengzhou, China. Nagel will teach voice to 20 Chinese students at one of Montana State University Billings’ sister campuses, Xuchang University. Nagel is an assistant professor of music at MSU Billings. Joining Nagel is MSU Billings assistant art professor Jodi Lightner, who will spend two weeks teaching art to students.

Nagel said he picked a monthlong program because that will allow him to introduce students to singing in Italian, German and English — specifically Broadway.

“I can develop a relationship with them and maybe they will come here to study,” Nagel said.

Lightner, who has toured and studied in China, said the opportunity for the Chinese students to interact with someone from another culture changes the kind of art that they produce. Nagel and Lightner will have translators working with them in order to communicate better with their students.

Lightner plans to exhibit eight of her drawings and paintings at Xuchang University while she is there, and Nagel is performing a recital.

In preparation for the trip, Nagel said he is studying Mandarin so he can perform one traditional Chinese song for his students. He also purchased an app for his smartphone that translates English into Chinese.

“It may save us from eating something we don’t know,” Lightner said.

They both plan on writing blogs while in China that will be available through the MSU Billings website at

Lightner will also lead a study trip in 2014 to Italy and Spain. She believes it is important for students to meet and study with people from other cultures. Lightner said she is excited about hunting for art supplies and discovering the talents of her Chinese students. She plans to have students create a temporary mural.

“Adapting and being flexible will be my teaching tools,” she said. “But the whole experience will be exciting — eating, teaching and touring.”

Nagel has discovered that the vibrato of Chinese vocalists is much different than he is used to. His challenge will be deciding how to teach the students while allowing them to keep their individuality.

Their teaching trip was coorinated through the International Studies Department through laison Xiaoyi Wang.

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Entertainment Reporter

Jaci Webb covers entertainment for The Billings Gazette.