Women’s Work: Composing a Feminist Interpretation of the Scottish Waulking Song Tradition

Research output: Contributions to conferencesPaper



This paper outlines the techniques and strategies employed within my compositional practice to combat issues surrounding the marginalisation of women within the context of the Western canon.

I demonstrate how I assimilate methods and practices located in contemporary feminist and music literature, deploying them in a musical setting with reference to the music criticism of authors such as Susan McClary and Sally Macarthur. I discuss how I have employed these techniques musically, describing the production of a piece of music, Waulking Songs (2021), for six pianos and electronics. This piece draws on the historical Scottish tradition of waulking songs, working songs sung by groups of women in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland as they waulked (beat) tweed by hand at a table to shrink it.

This music was created, sung and transmitted orally by communities of women and draws on the inherent feminist politics and poetics of the tradition. The intention of Waulking Songs is to juxtapose labour relations and performativity by mirroring a musical performance of labour with a performance of musical labour.

By sampling archive recordings and recontextualising them in a classical concert hall setting, Waulking Songs harnesses the Scottish traditional woman’s voice within the male dominated hierarchy of classical music to examine how these two traditions respond to one another. This paper reflects on the process of collaborating with historic recordings and the politics of writing and eventually performing the piece. The result is an exploration of the ways in which this musical tradition clearly preserves and expresses the historical subjective experience of women.

My research is focussed on finding ways to use contemporary music as a creative tool to challenge current notions of identity and the representation and subjective experience of women.


Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished or Performed - 2023
EventMusic, Research and Activsim - University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
Duration: 10 May 202312 May 2023


ConferenceMusic, Research and Activsim