World Music at NIU - NIU - School of Music


World Music at NIU

One of the unique features of the NIU School of Music is an active program in world music.  In addition to academic courses in world music survey, ethnomusicology, and regional studies, there are many ensembles that are not found in most colleges.

Students learn to perform regularly on authentic musical instruments such as the Steelband (see the Steelband page for details), Gamelan, North Indian Tabla, Chinese instruments, etc. The percussion area offers on a rotating basis West African Drumming, East African Xylophone, Central American marimba, Brazilian Drumming, Afro-Cuban percussion, and others.

Chinese Music Ensemble

The NIU Chinese Music Ensemble was the first college Chinese music group in the U.S. and currently is the only one in Illinois.  Established by Professor Emeritus Dr. Kuo-Huang Han in the 1970s, it gave several national and international concert performances between 1976 and 1978.  Inactive for several years, the ensemble was reinstated in 2010.  Members of the ensemble learn to play assorted authentic Chinese instruments, such as er-hu (two-string fiddle), yang-qin (hammered dulcimer), pipa (long-neck lute), liu qin and yueh-qin (small lute), ruan (medium lute), dizi (bamboo flute), sheng (mouth organ), and luo-gu (percussion instruments). Western instruments such as cello and double-bass are also included to provide the bass line for the orchestra.  The addition of Chinese music ensemble to the already-flourishing NIU world music curriculum has helped broaden both musical and cultural horizon of our students and the NIU community at large. With the mission of promoting Chinese culture through learning its music tradition, the NIU Chinese Music Ensemble promotes Asian cultural awareness and understanding through this unique performing art and ultimately helps enhance the cultural diversity in the American multicultural society.

Individual lessons and group rehearsals make up the major part of the curriculum, and Chinese musical instruments are available for short-term loan on a semester basis.  In addition, members of the ensemble will also be introduced to basic Chinese music theory, the standard repertoire of Chinese instrumental and chamber music, and knowledge about performance practice along with the aesthetic values and symbolism of Chinese traditional music.


Gamelan is a percussion-dominated ensemble from Indonesia. It is the most popular Asian ensemble in the world, having 120 sets in the United States. The NIU School of Music teaches the Central Javanese and Balinese gamelans and gives regular concerts and demonstrations. Many composers, including students and faculty at NIU, also write new compositions for the gamelan.

Middle-Eastern Music Ensemble

The NIU Middle-Eastern Music Ensemble provides an opportunity for students to learn the theoretical, practical, and historical perspectives of Pan-Arabic music traditions. Throughout the course, students will be introduced to a wide range of Pan-Arabic music styles, with a certain emphasis on irregular rhythmic modes and maqams. Repertoire to be studied in the ensemble ranges from classical pieces to religious, folk, popular, and children’s songs from the Middle-Eastern region.