Nancy Yunhwa Rao

Head of Music Theory

Nancy Yunhwa Rao has produced award-winning research on a range of topics, including gender and music, sketch studies, music modernism, cultural fusion in music, racial representations, and the music history of early Chinese Americans.

Her publications have provided innovative analytical approaches to cross-cultural music, and enhanced public discussions about cultural encounter in music. Through her scholarship, as well as teaching, she has promoted diversity and advanced knowledge and dialogue about the complexity of diversity issues in music scholarship.   

Her book, Chinatown Opera Theater in North America (Illinois University Press, 2017), tells the story of iconic theater companies and the networks and migrations that made Chinese opera a part of North American cultures. Rao unmasks a backstage world of performers, performance, and repertoire and sets readers in the spellbound audiences beyond the footlights. Its stories of loyalty, obligation, passion, and duty also attracted diverse patrons into Chinese American communities. It received Music in American Culture Award, American Musicological Society; Lowens Book Award, Society for American Music; and Book Award in Humanities and Cultural Studies, Associations for Asian American Studies.

As a music theorist, Rao has explored intersections between China and the West, in particular global perspectives in contemporary Chinese music. She has published on the use of music gestures, vocal style, and percussion patterns of Beijing opera in contemporary music by composers of Chinese origin.  She also received NEH Research Fellowship and ACLS Scholar in China Fellowship for this project. Her study on the American composer, Ruth Crawford, won her a national award of best article in American music published in 2007 from the Society for American Music. She has continued in the direction of sketch studies, for which her publication can be found in Music Theory Spectrum, as well as Carter Studies Online.

At Rutgers, Rao has taught a Byrne Seminar on the topic of “Cultural Fusion and Cosmopolitanism in Music”, where she leads first-year students in examining various cultural fusions. She helps students work their way through issues related to various forms of aesthetic concerns, exploitation and collaboration in musical cultural fusion. At the graduate level, she teaches gender and music analysis.  She encourages her students to explore different theoretical/methodological tools to study the complex phenomenon of cultural fusion, including transcultural theory, cosmopolitanism, and transnational studies.

  • Associated Programs

    Asian American Studies
    Women’s & Gender Studies
    East Asian Studies

  • Courses Taught

    Undergraduate Courses

    Music Theory I-IV
    Fundamental Musicianship I-V
    Issues of Musical Forms in the Works of Fanny Hensel, Clara Schumann, and Amy Beach
    Authorship and Identities of Women Composers in 20th-century American Art Music

    Graduate Courses

    Methods in Music Analysis
    Theory and Analysis of Twentieth-Century Music (I)
    Theory and Analysis of Twentieth-Century Music(II)
    Gender, Women and Music Analysis
    Musical Gesture and Analysis
    Rhythm and Meter from Haydn to Reich
    Cultural Fusion, Exoticism, Cosmopolitanism and Music Analyses

  • Education

    PhD Music Theory, University of Michigan
    MA Music Theory, University of Michigan
    BA Music, National Taiwan Normal University

  • Publications


    • Chinatown Opera Theater in North America, University of Illinois Press, American Music Live Series (In Production)


    • 2016a   “Conceptual Idea of the Opening Bars of Carter’s First String Quartet,” Elliott Carter Studies Online, Inaugural Issue 1. 
    • 2016b  “Transnationalism and Everyday Practice: Chinatown Theatres of North America in the 1920s,” Ethnomusicology Forum 26/1 (2016). Forthcoming.
    • 2016c  co-author with Sooi Beng Tan, “Introduction: Emergent Sino-Soundscapes: Musical Pasts, Transnationalism and Identities,” Ethnomusicology Forum 26/1 (2016): 1-10. 
    • 2016d  “The Transformative Power of Rhythm and Gesture: Transnational Inflection in Chen Yi’s Symphony No. 2.” In Analytical Essays on Music by Women Composers: Concert Music, 1960-2000, 127-152, ed. by Laurel Parsons and Brenda Ravenscroft, New York: Oxford University Press.
    • 2015a   “Sonic Imaginary After Cultural Revolution.” In Listening to China's Cultural Revolution Music, Politics, and Cultural Continuities, 213-238, ed. by Paul Clark, Laikwan Pang, and Tsan-huang Tsai. London: Palgrave.
    • 2015b   “Cultural Boundary and National Border: Recent Works of Tan Dun, Chen Yi, and Bright Sheng.” Translated by Myojung Bae, In Contemporary Music in East Asia, ed. by Hee Sook Oh, 283-309, Study Group for Music Aesthetics, Seoul National University Press. [In Korean]
    • 2015c   “From Chinatown Opera to The First Emperor: Racial imagination, the trope of “Chinese opera,” and new hybridity.” In Opera in a Multicultural World: Coloniality, Culture, Performance, 50-67, ed. by Mary Ingraham, Joseph K. So and Roy Moodley, New York: Routledge.
    • 2015d  “Sketch Studies and Lu Yen’s Harmony,” National Central University Journal of Humanities 60: 1-52. [in Chinese]
    • 2015e   Review of Joel Sachs: Henry Cowell: A Man Made of Music. Journal of the Society for American Music 9/3: 363–366.  
    • 2014a   “Cantonese Opera in Turn-of-the Century Canada: Local History and Transnational Circulation,” 19th Century Music Review 11/2: 291-310. 
    • 2014b   “Allegro Scorrevole in Carter’s First String Quartet: Crawfordand the Ultra-Modern Inheritance,” Music Theory Spectrum 36/2: 181-202.   
    • 2014c   “Cultural Boundary and National Border: Recent Works of Tan Dun, Chen Yi, and Bright Sheng.” In Contemporary Music in East Asia, ed. by Hee Sook Oh, 211-240, Seoul National University Press.
    • 2013a   “From Jiu Jiang Kou to Kandinsky: Contemporary Chinese Composers in Germany, France and United States.” In New Music in China 2011, ed. by Qian Renping, 265-280, Shanghai Conservatory Press. [in Chinese]
    • 2013b   “Asian-American Music: Chinese-American.” In New Grove Dictionary of American Music, 2nd Edition, Charles Garrett, vol. 1, 221-24, New York: Oxford University Press.
    • 2013c   “Musical theater—Ethnic traditions, Asian, Chinatown theater.” In New Grove Dictionary of American Music, 2nd Edition, Charles Garrett, vol. 5, 634-36, New York: Oxford University Press.
    • 2012   “Recent Works of Chou Wen Chung, Zhou Long, Bright Sheng, Chen Yi, and Lei Liang.” In New Music in China 2010, ed. by Qian Renping, 257-273, Shanghai Conservatory Press. [in Chinese]
    • 2011a   “The Public Face of Chinatown: Actresses, Actors, Playwrights, and Audiences of Chinatown Theaters in San Francisco of the 1920s,” Journal of the Society for American Music 5/2: 235-270.  
    • 2011b   Review of Su Zheng: Claiming Diaspora: Music, Transnationalism, and Cultural Politics in Asian/Chinese America. American Music 29/3: 386-88.
    • 2010a   “Works of Tan Dun, Chen Qigang, Zhou Long, Bright Sheng, Chen Yi, and Lei Liang.” In New Music in China 2009, ed. by Qian Renping, 153-173, Shanghai Conservatory Press. [in Chinese] 
    • 2010b   “Chinese Opera Theaters” Encyclopedia of Asian American Folklore and Folklife, ed. by Jonathan H.X. Lee and Kathleen M. Nadeau, 241-6, Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood Press.
    • 2009a   “The Color of Music Heritage: Chinese America in American Ultra-Modern Music,” Journal of Asian American Studies 12/1: 83-119.  
    • 2009b   “The Tradition of Luogu Dianzi (Percussion Classics) and Its Signification in Contemporary Music.” In China and the West: the Birth of New Music,ed. by Lei Liang and Edward Green, 21-39, Shanghai Conservatory Press.[Translation and expansion of 2007 version in Chinese]  
    • 2008     “Returning to New York: Manhattan’s Chinese Opera Theaters and the Golden Age of Cantonese Opera in North America.” In Collected Essays from Symposium on Cantonese Opera: Historical Development Over the Last Two Hundred Years Vol. 1, ed. by Chow Sze Sum and Cheng Ling Yan, 261-294, Cantonese Opera Research Programme, Chinese University of Hong Kong. [in Chinese]
    • 2007a   “The Tradition of Luogu Dianzi (Percussion Classics) and Its Signification in Contemporary Music,” Contemporary Music Review 5/6: 511-527.
    • 2007b   “Ruth Crawford's Imprint on Contemporary Composition.” In Ruth Crawford Seeger's Worlds: Innovation and Tradition in Twentieth-century American Music, ed. by E. Hisama and R. Allen, 110-147, Rochester: University of Rochester Press.
    • [Winner of the Irwin Lowens Article Award, Society for American Music]
    • 2005     “Cowell's Sliding Tone and American Ultra-Modernist Tradition,” American Music 23/3: 281-323. 
    • 2004a   “Henry Cowell and His Chinese Music Heritage: Theory of Sliding Tone and His Orchestral Work of 1953-1965.” In Locating East Asia in Western Art Music, ed. by Yayoi U. Everett and Frederick Lau, 119-145, 241-246, Wesleyan, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press.
    • 2004b   “Zhou Long and Chinese Classic Poetry." Liner note essay for Zhou Long: The Book of Songs, Cala Records 77009, pages 2-11.
    • 2002a   “Hearing Pentatonicism Through Serialism: Integrating Different Traditions in Contemporary Chinese Music,” Perspectives of New Music 40/2: 190-232. 
    • 2002b   “Songs of the Exclusion Era: New York's Cantonese Opera Theaters in the 1920s,” American Music 20/4: 399-444.
    • 2002c   “Chromatic Space and the Poetics in Lu Yen's Ling Chung Gao Lo,Journal of Musical Arts: 31-50. [in Chinese]
    • 2002d   “A Comparison of Trichordal Relations in Milton Babbitt's String Quartet No. 2 and Elliott Carter's A Symphony for Three Orchestras,” Ewha Music Journal 6: 127-172. 
    • 2002     "Racial Essence and Historical Invisibility: Chinese Opera in New York, 1930," Cambridge Opera Journal 12/2: 135-62.    
    • 2001     "The Scope, Angle, and Theoretical Basis of the Discourse on the History of Chinese New Music." In Essays on CriticalHistory of New Music in China. ed. by Ching-chih Liu and Li Ming, (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University, Centre of Asian Studies, 2001)  [In Chinese]
    • 2000a   "The Role of Language in Music Integration in Chen Qigang’s Poème Lyrique II,” Journal of Music in China 2/2: 270-91.
    • 2000b   "Imaginary Space in the Pentatonic Twelve-tone World: Luo Zhong Rong’s Qin-Yun." In Papers and Proceeding of the Sixth Seminar on History of New Music in China: Its Form, Craftmanship, Aesthetics ed. by Ching-chih Liu and Li Ming, 263-87, Hong Kong: Hong Kong University, Centre of Asian Studies. [In Chinese]
    • 2000c   "Meter, Rhythm, and the Regularity of Irregular Phrase Rhythm in Huang Yodi’s Art Songs."Proceeding of the International Seminar on Huang Yodi, 1-32, Kao Shung: Sun Yat-Sen University.   [In Chinese]
    • 1997a   "Partnership in Modern Music: Charles Seeger and Ruth Crawford, 1929-1931." American Music, 15/3: 352-380.
    • 1997b   Review of Barbara Mittler: Dangerous Tunes: The Politics of Chinese Music in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the People’s Republic of China since 1949, CHIME: Journal of the European Foundation for Chinese Music Research 12/13: 57-60.
  • Research Initiatives

    American Ultramodern Music
    Sketch Studies of Elliott Carter’s String Quartet No. 1
    Chinatown Opera Theaters in the North America, 1910-1945
    Feminist Theory and Music
    Contemporary Chinese Composers
    Cultural Fusion in Music
    Lu Yen (Taiwanese composer)

  • Awards

    Certificate of Merit for Best Historical Research in Recorded Country, Folk, Roots, or World Music
    Association for Recorded Sound Collections - 2018
    Publication Subvention Award
    The AMS 75 PAYS Endowment of the American Musicological Society - 2016
    Keynote Speaker
    Chinese Composers Festival and Symposium: Retrospect and Prospect—Chinese Composers in the Age of Globalization, Hong Kong Composer Guild - 2013
    Parsons Awards for Ethnography Fellowships
    Library of Congress - 2012
    Dena Epstein Award
    Music Library Association - 2011
    Lowens Article Award
    Society for American Music - 2009
    Research Fellowship
    National Endowment for the Humanities - 2004-2005
    CCCS Fellowship
    American Council of Learned Societies - 2002-2003
    Research Council Grant
    Rutgers University - 1999, 2005, 2009

    Faculty Fellow
    Institute for Research on Women, Rutgers University-2009-2010
    Mannes Institute for Music Theory (Rhythm)-2005   
    Mannes Institute for Music Theory (Transformation)-2003
    Faculty Fellow
    Center for Historical Analysis, Rutgers University-2001-2012
  • Expertise