Since the 1990s, there has been a significant increase in the creation of larger-scale, innovative compositions by traditional musicians in Scotland. The composers of these works experiment with forms beyond the typical 32 bar dance tune, draw on a wide range of influences, and engage in opportunity-based professional development in this unique community of practice, described as The New Traditional School (Watson, 2013).

Dr Lori Watson, a musician, composer, and Lecturer in Scottish Ethnology at the University of Edinburgh was awarded an RSE Small Research Grant to take forward a pilot study: The New Traditional School in Scotland, in which she documented and analysed the ways that traditional musicians are using experimental approaches to make, and perform, pieces of music that go beyond the sounds that we would associate with local traditional music in Scotland.

Through the RSE-funded study, Dr Watson collected fieldwork interviews; survey data; musical scores, recordings, literature; and archival and publicly available data relating to the New Traditional School in Scotland. Her findings were that the scale of activity in this community is far greater than she expected, with over 170 composers professionally active.

One of the important aspects of the project for Dr Watson was connecting expertise across the community and ensuring that the documents will last. The RSE award allowed her to conduct and record high-quality video interviews, including elements of performance, to increase the potential reach and engagement with the materials.

This research contributes to the development of artistic practice, which benefits composers, performers and audiences. It also supports teachers and learners with new strategies to express themselves and develop their skills. Finally, it updates our understanding of what traditional culture can look and sound like, and how tradition or heritage and creativity interact in meaningful ways.”

Speaking about her journey into academic research, and the future of the project, Dr Watson said,

I am a traditional musician and composer, returning to research after a freelance career. The RSE award has allowed me to re-establish a research practice, lead on a pilot study, and gauge the scope of the topic. I’ve now been able to develop several funding bids to support expansion of the project, and I’d like to the develop a new archive of the works and fieldwork materials in collaboration with the School of Scottish Studies Archives and the Scottish Music Centre.”