From northeast Indiana to northeast India: Trine faculty member teaches in Nagaland

Though the jungle and mountains in the state of Nagaland are halfway around the world from Trine University, Mark Kays’ love for music took him there this past summer.

Kays, director of music at Trine, spent a month at the Nagaland College of Music and Fine Arts in far northeast India. While there, he taught classes and performed at local churches and coffee houses.

The avid motorcyclist even had the opportunity to ride through the Himalayan Mountains.

The opportunity came as the result of a mission trip Scott Saltsman, pastor of Lake Area Christian Church in Fremont, took to the region. While there, Saltsman met Vesato Theluo, director of the college, and invited him to visit the United States.

During Theluo’s visit to the U.S., Saltsman introduced him to Kays.

“We brought him over here and were just kind of chatting and he said, ‘You know, I would like for you to come over here and do a seminar at our music college,’ ” Kays recalled.

Theluo extended an official invitation to Kays to visit this past spring, and Kays arrived in Nagaland on July 9.

Wet clothes, attentive students

Kays arrived in the capital of Kohima during Nagaland’s rainy season. Because the climate is temperate, there is no heating or air conditioning, he said, and thus no way to get humidity out of the air.

“You wash your clothes, and they don’t dry,” he said.

“When I first got there, it was before their term started, so I taught two days of instrumental methods and instrumental conducting to the students who were already on campus and to community members — a lot of church choir directors and people like that,” Kays said.

Most of the people of Nagaland are ethnically Asian, he said. Since there are some 30 different languages and dialects in the region, English is spoken as the official language.

“Sometimes it was not easy to understand them, but they all said they could understand me well,” Kays said.

For three weeks, Kays taught subjects to the college’s 35 students such as instrumental music, beginning and advanced conducting, music history and classroom management.

“The students there were attentive and seemed to be very interested in what I was talking about,” Kays said. “One difference is they are very shy, so it’s hard to get them to speak out in class or respond to questions.”

In the evenings, Kays would prepare for the next day’s class or visit the city. Often, Theluo took Kays to people’s homes. Kays said he enjoyed seeing the architecture and décor, as well as trying different varieties of food: Traditional dishes included spicy boiled chicken or pork — although he also tried and enjoyed snails — always served with rice.

“They liked to talk about politics at a lot of the places I went,” Kays said. “They’re interested in U.S. politics and the United States in general.”

Performing church music and jazz

Unlike most of India, which is a majority Hindu nation, 95 percent of the Naga people are Christians — mostly Baptist, Kays said. He attended church each Sunday, with worship led in that church’s particular dialect, and performed on the saxophone at several.

“In that area, wind instruments are very rare, so that was different for them to hear,” he said.

He also performed in a local coffee house with a jazz combo Theluo assembled — Theluo’s sister-in-law on piano, Kays on sax and a bass player.

“They had a little stage and probably 30 people in there, a lot of students and people from the city,” Kays said. “I played some jazz standards like Fly Me to the Moon and Girl from Ipanema. They thought it was great and asked me to play a couple of encores.”

He also was called upon to play bagpipes at the funeral of a local minister and missionary who passed away.

“There were two thousand people at this funeral, and they asked me to play Amazing Grace when they brought his casket out of the church,” Kays recalled. “That was quite an honor.”

Biking in the Himalayas

Kays also got a unique opportunity when Theluo’s brother-in-law loaned him his motorcycle for a trip through the Himalayan Mountains. However, even though the views were “awesome,” it wasn’t an easy trip.

“The roads are terrible,” Kays said. “It’s all mountainous, of course, and so one of the big problems is landslides. They clear the landslides quickly, but that leaves big ruts and holes in the road. So I would come up to gouges in the pavement filled with water. Once I had to ride through a big puddle and the exhaust pipe went under water.”

Kays hopes to return to Nagaland in the summer of 2021.

“It was a great experience. The people over there are just wonderful,” he said.

Top photo: A view of the city of Kohima from the roof of the Nagaland College of Music and Fine Arts.

  • Hosts

    Hosts - Front, from left, Mark Kays, director of music at Trine University, Lulu Theluo, Vesato Theluo and, back, Aviu Theluo sit in the Theluo family’s home in Nagaland, India. The Theluos hosted Kays while he taught at the Nagaland College of Music and Fine Arts. Vesato Theluo is director of the college.

  • College

    College - The students and staff of the Nagaland College of Music and Fine Arts.

  • Bagpipes

    Bagpipes - Mark Kays plays bagpipes at the funeral of Rev. Moatsungba Longchari, senior pastor of Baptist Mission Church in Kohima.

  • Saxophone

    Saxophone - Mark Kays plays the saxophone at a church in Kohima. Also pictured are Asou Usou on saxophone and his wife Ameu Usou on piano.