• Rao, Nancy
  • Professor
  • Department: Mason Gross School of the Arts
  • Tel: : 732-932-8809
  • Office: MGSA - Music, 81 George Street, New Brunswick
  • Webpage: Visit Website


Ph.D. in Music Theory, University of Michigan
M.A. in Music Theory, University of Michigan
B.A. in Music, National Taiwan Normal University

Research Interests

• American Ultramodern Music
• Sketch Studies
• Chinatown Opera Theaters in the North America
• Feminist Theory and Music
• Contemporary Chinese Composers
• Cultural Fusion in Music
• Transpacific musical production

Biographical Notes

Dr. 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.

Rao’s 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. She 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. Chinatown Opera Theater has received three book awards: Music in American Culture Award from American Musicological Society; Lowens Book Award from Society for American Music; and Book Award in Humanities and Cultural Studies, Associations for Asian American Studies. It also received Citation of Merit.

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. Her work is supported by National Endowment for the Humanities Research Fellowships and Scholar in China Fellowship of American Council of Learned Societies. 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.

Awards, Fellowships, Grants

• National Endowment for the Humanities Research Fellowship (2020-21)
• Book Award of Humanities and Cultural Studies, Association for Asian American Studies (2019)
• Irwin Lowens Book Award, Society for American Music (2019)
• Music in American Culture Award, American Musicological Society (2018)
• Certificate of Merit for Best Historical Research, Association for Recorded Sound Collections (2018)
• Outstanding Alumni Award, National Taiwan Normal University, (2018)
• Parsons Fellowship, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, (2012)
• Dena Epstein Award, Music Library Association Rao (2011)
• Irwin Lowens Article Award, Society for American Music (2009)
• National Endowment for the Humanities Research Fellowship (2003-04)
• American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship—Scholar in China (2003)

Selected Publications


Chinatown Opera Theater in North America. ( University of Illinois Press, 2017)

Articles and book chapters

2020       “Inside Chinese Theater: Cantonese Opera in Canada.” Intersections 38/1 (2018)   https://doi.org/10.7202/1071675ar

2020       “The Concept of Shi: Chinese Aesthetics and Chen Yi’s Happy Rain on a Spring Night,” Music Theory Online 26/ 3 https://www.mtosmt.org/issues/mto.20.26.3/mto.20.26.3.rao.php

2020       “Kalligraphie und Tinte in der zeitgenössischen chinesischen Musik: Der Fall Wen Deqing.” Musik & Ästhetik 93 (2020): 5-26.  

2020       “On Division of Intellectual Labor.” Intégral: The Journal of Applied Musical Thought 33/1 https://www.esm.rochester.edu/integral/33-2019/rao/

2020       “Asian Americans in Opera: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives,” Oxford  Encyclopedia of Asian American Literature https://oxfordre.com/literature/page/asian-american/the-oxford-encyclopedia-of-asian-american-and-pacific-islander-literature-and-culture  

2017       “Soundscape in Chinese Ink Painting of Landscape.” (水墨山水的音景) The Art of Music: Journal of the Shanghai Conservatory of Music 音樂藝術 149: 76-82.

2017       “Chinese Opera Percussions from Model Opera to Tan Dun.” In China and the West: Music, Representation, and Reception, edited by Helan Yang and Michael Saffle, 163-185. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.   

2016       “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, edited by Laurel Parsons and Brenda Ravenscroft, 127-152. New York: Oxford University Press.  [Winner of the Outstanding Multi-Author Collection, Society for Music Theory]

2016       “The Sense of Opening: String Quartet No. 1.” Elliott Carter Studies Online 1. http://studies.elliottcarter.org/volume01/

2016       “Transnationalism and Everyday Practice: Chinatown Theatres of North America in the 1920s.” Ethnomusicology Forum 26/1: 107-130. 

2016       “Introduction: Emergent Sino-Soundscapes: Musical Pasts, Transnationalism and Identities.” Co-authored with Sooi Beng Tan. Ethnomusicology Forum 26/1: 1-10. 

2016       “Sonic Imaginary After Cultural Revolution.” In Listening to China's Cultural Revolution Music, Politics, and Cultural Continuities, edited by Paul Clark, Laikwan Pang, and Tsan-huang Tsai, 213-238. London: Palgrave.

2015       “Sketch Studies and Lu Yen’s Harmony.” (手稿解讀與盧炎的和聲) National Central University Journal of Humanities中央人文學報60: 1-52. [in Chinese]

2015       “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, edited by Mary Ingraham, Joseph K. So and Roy Moodley, 50-67. New York: Routledge.

2015       “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, edited by Hee Sook Oh, 283-309. Seoul: Seoul National University Press. [In Korean]

2014       “Cantonese Opera in Turn-of-the Century Canada: Local History and Transnational Circulation.” 19th Century Music Review 11/2: 291-310. 

2014       “Allegro Scorrevole in Carter’s First String Quartet: Crawford and the Ultra-Modern Inheritance,” Music Theory Spectrum 36/2: 181-202.   

2014       “Cultural Boundary and National Border: Recent Works of Tan Dun, Chen Yi, and Bright Sheng.” In Contemporary Music in East Asia, edited by Hee Sook Oh, 211-240. Seoul, Seoul National University Press.

2014       “From Jiu Jiang Kou to Kandinsky: Contemporary Chinese Composers in Germany, France and United States.”(從九江口到康丁斯基:德國、法國和美國的華籍作曲家) In New Music in China 2011 , edited by Qian Renping, 265-280. Shanghai: Shanghai Conservatory of Music Press. [in Chinese]

2013       “Asian-American Music: Chinese-American.” In New Grove Dictionary of American Music, 2nd Edition, edited by Charles Garrett, vol. 1, 221-24. New York: Oxford University Press.

2013       “Musical theater—Ethnic traditions, Asian, Chinatown theater.” In New Grove Dictionary of American Music, 2nd Edition, edited by 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.” (海外華人作曲家音樂創作、首演及重要活動述評) In New Music in China 2010, edited by Qian Renping, 257-273. Shanghai: Shanghai Conservatory of Music Press. [in Chinese]

2011       “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.  

2010       “Works of Tan Dun, Chen Qigang, Zhou Long, Bright Sheng, Chen Yi, and Lei Liang.”  (海外華人作曲家音樂創作、演出及出版述評) In New Music in China 2009 zhonggu, edited by Qian Renping, 153-173. Shanghai: Shanghai Conservatory of Music Press. [in Chinese] 

2009       “The Color of Music Heritage: Chinese America in American Ultra-Modern Music.” Journal of Asian American Studies 12/1: 83-119.  

2009       “The Tradition of Luogu Dianzi (Percussion Classics) and Its Signification in Contemporary Music.” (鑼鼓點子及其在當代音樂中的意義) In China and the West: the Birth of New Music, edited by Lei Liang and Edward Green, 21-39. Shanghai: Shanghai Conservatory of Music Press. [Translation and expansion of 2007 version]  

2008       “Returning to New York: Manhattan’s Chinese Opera Theaters and the Golden Age of Cantonese Opera in North America.” (重返紐約!從1920年代曼哈頓戲院看美洲的粵劇黃金時期) In Collected Essays from Symposium on Cantonese Opera: Historical Development Over the Last Two Hundred Years Vol. 1, edited by Chow Sze Sum and Cheng Ling Yan, 261-294. Hong Kong: Chinese University of Hong Kong, Cantonese Opera Research Programme. [in Chinese]

2007       “The Tradition of Luogu Dianzi (Percussion Classics) and Its Signification in Contemporary Music.” Contemporary Music Review 5/6: 511-527.

2007       “Ruth Crawford's Imprint on Contemporary Composition.” In Ruth Crawford Seeger's Worlds: Innovation and Tradition in Twentieth-century American Music, edited by Ellie Hisama and Ray Allen, 110-147. Rochester: University of Rochester Press.

2005       “Cowell's Sliding Tone and American Ultra-Modernist Tradition.” American Music 23/3: 281-323. 

2004       “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, edited by Yayoi Everett and Frederick Lau, 119-145, 241-246. Wesleyan, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press.

2002       “Hearing Pentatonicism Through Serialism: Integrating Different Traditions in Contemporary Chinese Music.” Perspectives of New Music 40/2: 190-232. 

2002       “Songs of the Exclusion Era: New York's Cantonese Opera Theaters in the 1920s.” American Music 20/4: 399-444.

2002       “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. 

2001       “American Compositional Theory in the 1930s: Scale and Exoticism in ‘The Nature of Melody’ by Henry Cowell.” Musical Quarterly 85/4: 595-640.

2000       "Racial Essence and Historical Invisibility: Chinese Opera in New York, 1930." Cambridge Opera Journal 12/2: 135-62.

2000       "The Role of Language in Music Integration in Chen Qigang’s Poème Lyrique II.” Journal of Music in China 2/2: 270-91.

1997       "Partnership in Modern Music: Charles Seeger and Ruth Crawford, 1929-1931."           American Music 15/3: 352-380.


2021       Book Review of Polycultural Synthesis in the Music of Chou Wen-chung, edited by Mary I. Arlin and Mark A. Radice, American Music (forthcoming)

2017       Review essay of Grace Wang: Soundtracks of Asian America: Navigating Race through Musical Performance; Tamara Roberts: Resounding Afro Asia: Interracial Music and the Performance of Unity. Journal of the Society for American Music 11/3: 370-76.

2017       Review of Arthur Dong: Forbidden City, USA: Chinese American Nightclubs, 1936-1970. Notes: Journal of the Music Library Association 73/4: 741-44.

2015       Review of Joel Sachs: Henry Cowell: A Man Made of Music. Journal of the Society for American Music 9/3: 363–366.  

2011       Review of Su Zheng: Claiming Diaspora: Music, Transnationalism, and Cultural Politics in Asian/Chinese America. American Music 29/3: 386-88.

1997       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.