World Music Program Curriculum - NIU - College of Visual and Performing Arts

Program Overview

niu world music festival icon

(Photo collage credit: Dr. Sheichau Wang)

World Music Program

The world music program at NIU is an Individualized Study Program that involves interdisciplinary course work. Students usually consult with a faculty advisor to design an area of specialization with course work selected from existing courses: core music courses in Music History and Music Theory of European Common Practices, and Researh Methods; world music ensembles; seminars; and/or independent study, offered both in-and out of the School of Music. The interdisciplinary nature of such a program provides students opportunities not only to acquire high-level music skills and overall musicianship, but also to increase their awareness of the cultural and social aspects of various musical practices of the world. Collaborative disciplines from past successful programs include Anthropology, Art History, Communication, Foreign Language, Political Science, and History. NIU’s well-known Center for Southeast Asian Studies is another interdisciplinary area for students to develop such collaboration. Although there is no undergraduate degree offered in our program, courses such as Survey of World Music Cultures, Music of China, Music of Southeast Asia, World Music Pedagogy, and Introduction to Ethnomusicology are available for upper level undergraduates.

Three tracks in this program are available for graduate students to pursue their advanced study: research, performance, and education. Click here for the curriculum information about graduate studies on world music.  

Non-European classical music cultures that have been part of the NIU music curriculum include African drumming, Balinese and Javanese music and dance, Chinese music (silk-and-bamboo and orchestra), Middle Eastern (Arabic) music, and North Indian music. Global trends of fusing musical elements from the world are also highly celebrated in the NIU Music School, for example, the Afropop ensemble. In addition, the world music program invites visiting artists from many different countries to give special performances and workshops. Since the 70s, these artists have come from Asia (China, Japan, Korea, India, Indonesia, Thailand, and Cambodia), from Latin America (Mexico), Africa (Ghana, Zambia), and the Middle East (Turkey and Syria).Click here for a list of the most recent guest artists and their activities.

Affiliated Faculty

School of Music:

  • Cliff Alexis: Musical Instrument Technician, Steel pan
  • Omar al Musif: M.M. Northern Illinois University, Applied artist, Middle Eastern/Pan Arabic music, frame drums
  • Greg Beyer: DMA, Manhattan School of Music, Associate Professor, percussion, new music, berimbau
  • Robert Chappell: M.M., University of North Texas, Professor emeritus, percussion, tabla
  • I Gusti Ngurah Kertayuda: National Performing Arts Institute (KOKAR), Denpasar, Indonesia, Applied artist, Indonesian gamelan, Indonesian dance
  • Michael Mixtackie: M.M. Indian University, Instructor: percussion, Latin jazz, Afro-Cuban Folklore
  • Liam Teaque: M.M. Northern Illinois University, Associate Professor: steel pan
  • Jui-Ching Wang: DMA, Arizona State University, Associate Professor: world music, music education, ethnomusicology

 Department of History:

  • E. Taylor Atkins: Ph.D., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Presidential Teaching Professor: Asia (Japan & Korea), colonial empires, cultural/intellectual, global, memory and commemoration, music and politics, Korean folk music, pansori, jazz, funk, reggae

General Program Overview

The NIU School of Music has held a pioneering role in integrating diverse musical styles into its curriculum since the 1970s 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.

The special strengths of the NIU world music program are in its versatile world music ensembles, including Steel Band, the Chinese music ensemble, Indonesian gamelan ensemble, Indian tabla ensemble, and Middle Eastern ensemble.  

Founded in 1973, the NIU steel band was the first active steel band in an American university. NIU is one of the few institutions in the world at which students may pursue undergraduate and graduate music degrees in steelpans.   For more information about NIU Steel Band, please visit

The 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 Kuo-Huang Han in the 1970s, it gave several national and international concert performances between 1976 and 1978.  Inactive for several decades, the ensemble was reinstated in 2010 under the direction of Chinese music specialist Prof. Yung-Hsin Chen, a native Taiwanese music educator.  Members of the ensemble learn to play assorted authentic Chinese instruments. Individual lessons and group rehearsals make up the major part of the curriculum. 

dizi                  practice session with prof yhchen

Chinese ensemble members tried on dizi (2011).                              A practice session with Prof. Yung-Hsin Chen (2014)

Our program also teaches the Central Javanese and Balinese gamelans and gives regular concerts and demonstrations on and off the NIU campus. In addition to gamelan music, students in the ensemble also learn to play Keroncong music and to dance.  Since 2013, the gamelan ensemble has been directed by Professor Ngurah Kertayuda, guest artist and native Balinese gamelan director, dancer, and choreographer.


Prof. Kertayuda worked with Aboud Agha (MM.2013) on the jogogan part.


Gamelan ensemble members performed the traditional social dance, Tari Payung "Umbrella Dance" in its annual open house event in Fall 2014.

The 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 are introduced to a wide range of Pan-Arabic music styles, with an emphasis on irregular rhythms and maqam. Aural skills are highly enhanced as a result of immersion in listening to and reproducing microtonal intervals and irregular meters. Since 2013, this ensemble has been directed by renowned frame drum artist Professor Omar al Musfi.


Omar al Musfi, director of the Middle Eastern Ensemble, performed in concert (Fall 2013)

Also available are the year-long world music activities and events led or directed by faculty or graduate students. 

jiaqi dizi               ethantabla        

Photo 1.                                                                           Photo 2.

afropop sebon     honginafropop       mathewtembo

Photo 3                                           Photo 4                                                  Photo 5

faree essam         mattghana gyil

Photo 6                                                                               Photo 7

yao ethan

Photo 8


Photo 1. Graduate world music student Jiaqi Li worked with graduate flute major Joe LaRocca on dizi, Chinese bamboo flute in Fall 2014.

Photo 2. Graduate percussion major Ethan Fox worked with Jazz major Bobby Cooper on Indian tabla in the Survey of World Music class in Fall 2014.

Photo 3. Guest artist Hatian musician Jan Sebon played in the Afropop ensemble in Summer 2013.

Photo 4. Graduate composition major Hong Hong Hui (MM. 2014) played her pipa, Chinese lute, in the Afropop ensemble in Summer 2013 led by Mathew Tembo (MM. 2013).

Photo 5. Alum Afro pop singer/song writer Mathew Tembo (MM. 2013) led the Afro pop ensemble in Summer 2013.

Photo 6. Guitar virtuoso Fareed Haque collaborated with guest artist Essam Rafea in the Middle Eastern Ensemble Fall 2013.

Photo 7. Graduate percussion major Matthew Aubeuf demonstrated Ghanaian gyill in the Survey of World Music class in Fall 2014.

Photo 8. Graduate world music major Yao Cui (pipa) collaborated with Ethan Fox in a "new silk road" project in Fall 2014.