Research Seminar: Dr Nicholas Ng

Chinese Music Performance in Australia 


Performances of Chinese music have been part of the Australian soundscape since at least the 1850s. In recent decades, urban Australia’s main engagement with Chinese music was most likely through buskers – often middle-aged or elderly men, frequently playing an erhu (two-string fiddle) or perhaps zhudi (transverse bamboo flute), sometimes accompanied by a pre-recorded electronic backing. In the last few years, younger musicians who have also given street performances referred to in Mandarin as kuaishan (快闪‘flash mob’) or jiepai (街拍 ‘street shot’), engaging in what are considered fashionable, effective and enjoyable ways of promoting this music and attracting more listeners to this Chinese sound world without the expectation of payment. In this panel discussion, we briefly introduce the history of Australia’s Chinese community and discuss how performances of xiqu (Chinese opera), Chinese ritual music, and other types of performance – including new music and contemporary theatre – have occurred in Australia. While we focus particularly on contemporary practice of different genres, as space and historical records allow, we also look back in time at the roots and previous popularity of each. Our discussions draw on our own diverse involvement in different dimensions of Chinese music performance and research in Australia, as well as data from select ethnographic interviews and a wide range of published and historical sources.


Dr Nicholas Ng is Sydney-based a composer, performer and researcher. He is a former Associate Lecturer at the Australian National University School of Music and Research Fellow at Queensland Conservatorium, and at the Institute for Australian and Chinese Arts and Culture (Western Sydney University). Since 2016, Nicholas has been teaching Chinese music and western harmony at Sydney Conservatorium where he co-directs the Conservatorium's 90-piece Chinese Music Ensemble. On the erhu, Nicholas has toured to festivals around Australia, New Zealand, North America, Canada and Europe such as the KunstenFESTIVALdesarts (Brussels) and Sydney Festival. He has composed for The Song Company, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and other ensembles. Nicholas works closely with William Yang and Annette Shun Wah and appeared with Benjamin Law in the touring production Double Delicious, produced by CAAP (Contemporary Asian Australian Performance). He has written a book and various articles on Australia-China exchange. While a doctoral student with E/Prof Larry Sitsky and Dr Stephen Wild, Nicholas established the ANU Chinese Classical Music Ensemble (2004) and later curated the festival ENCOUNTERS: China (2010) for the Queensland Conservatorium Research Centre. His work has been documented on SBS Mandarin Radio, ABC Music Show, and in the ABC Compass program, Divine

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