Since the 1970s, the NIU School of Music (then the Department of Music) has pioneered in the integration of diverse musical cultures into its curriculum with the establishment of the first all-student steel band and Chinese music ensemble in the U.S. Throughout these four decades, academic courses in world music survey, ethnomusicology, and regional studies and performance studies in various musical cultures of the world make up the unique curriculum that has helped students to become culturally informed and artistically versatile musicians and music educators.
Non-European classical music cultures that have been part of the NIU music curriculum include Afro-Cuban folkloric music, Balinese and Javanese music and dance, Brazilian percussion music, Caribbean steel pan music, Chinese music (silk-and-bamboo and orchestral), Middle Eastern (Pan Arabic) music, and North Indian music. Global trends of musical fusion are also highly celebrated in the NIU Music School, for example, by the Afro pop ensemble. In addition, the world music program invites visiting artists from the U.S and all over the world to give special performances and workshops. The international artists have come from Asia (China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, India, Indonesia, Thailand, and Cambodia), from Latin America (Mexico), Africa (Ghana, Zambia), and the Middle East (Turkey and Syria).