Words and music

World Music SymposiumThe NIU Music Building will resonate with the sounds from around the world this week when the “2015 World Music Symposium: From the Exotic to the Global” takes place today through Saturday, April 11.

Nearly 100 music educators, ethnomusicologists, composers, performers and interdisciplinary scholars from around the world will converge at the School of Music for the three days of presentations and performances marking the 40th anniversary of the world music program at NIU and the first time for a gathering like this.

The symposium was organized by associate professor of music Jui-Ching Wang, honors Kuo-Huang Han, the Chinese-born NIU music professor emeritus who established the pioneering world music program in 1975.

“Dr. Han is a mentor to me,” said Wang, who took over the program after Han took a position at the University of Kentucky-Lexington in 2004. “In Chinese tradition, a mentor is like a father figure. I respect him for who he is and for what he has done to help students like me.”

Han, who trained at Northwestern University in the 1960s and early ’70s as a musicologist in early European music, began teaching at NIU in 1971 where he quickly became a pioneer in infusing non-Western musical traditions into a university music curriculum. By 1975, when only a handful of public universities offered such courses, NIU was offering students the opportunity to play in Asian and steel band ensembles and to study ethnomusicology and the burgeoning field of world music.

Over several summers after arriving at NIU, Han studied Asian music at the Center for World Music in California (now located at the University of Illinois) and learned to play the Indonesian gamelan and numerous other instruments from around the world. He was able to purchase Chinese, Thai and West African instruments. With support from the Center for Southeast Asian Studies and the Anthropology Department, he also acquired two Indonesian gamelan sets from Bali and Central Java.

Kuo-Huang Han
Kuo-Huang Han

Since then, hundreds of music and non-music students have learned to play music from Asia to the Middle East at NIU. Fifteen of them are coming back to NIU to honor their former teacher, Wang said.

In the process of building the world music program at NIU, the energetic Han also introduced DeKalb and surrounding areas to the richness of non-Western music at an annual world music concert featuring music from Chinese, Korean, Indonesian, Thai, Indian, Yugoslavian, African, Caribbean and other musical cultures, Wang said.

In honor of that first “Music Exotica” concert, there will be three “Musica Exotica” concerts at Boutell Memorial Concert Hall during the symposium, two starting at 8 p.m. today and Friday, April 10, and a full 40th anniversary concert from 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday, April 11.

Throughout the symposium, various NIU groups will be performing at lunchtime concerts and an open mic night April 10 during the symposium, including the NIU Middle Eastern and Percussion ensembles, the Rosebud Jazztet and the NIU Steelband.

For more information, email jcwang@niu.edu.

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