Department of Music

Professor Rachel Beckles Willson

Key information

Department of Music Professorial Research Associate
Department of Music
GRSM hons (London), MMus (Glasgow), PhD (London)
Email address


Rachel Beckles Willson is a composer, multi-instrumentalist and widely-published researcher, now Professorial Research Associate at SOAS. Her current interests are in practice-led and practice-based research in museum contexts, and the opportunities and challenges brought by new technologies.

For 20 years Professor Beckles Willson worked full-time in academia, most recently as Professor at Royal Holloway, where she taught courses on Intercultural Performance, Music and Orientalism, and Ensemble Performance among others, and supervised doctoral research on topics from the Hungarian folk revival to Kuwaiti song. As a scholar, she has published numerous articles and books, including Orientalism and Musical Mission: Palestine and the West (2013), and Ligeti, Kurtág, and Hungarian Music during the Cold War (2007). Her article "Orientation through Instruments: The ʿūd, the Palestinian Home, and Kamīlyā Jubrān" (2019) won the Frances Densmore Prize of the American Musical Instrument Society in 2021.

Professor Beckles Willson is also founder and editor of Oudmigrations, a Leverhulme-funded web-based resource for understanding musical instruments across time and space which inspired a concert series in Rome 2018-19; co-founder of Today is Good!, a song-writing project with asylum-seekers in Sicily; and Director of Beyond Mode, a quartet exploring new music at the boundaries of traditions from around the Mediterranean. Her monograph The Oud: a cultural history is forthcoming with Interlink Books in 2022.

As a freelance oud player and researcher she explored Arab and Iraqi traditions before coming to concentrate on Ottoman repertories and makam, but is most interested in developing new repertories for the instrument. For more information, please visit Professor Beckles Willson's YouTube channel.

Research interests


Practice-led research (composition and performance); musical instruments and museology; the oud; music and migration, gender, history and politics.

19th to 21st-century Palestine, Europe and the former Eastern Bloc (Hungary in particular); African migration to Europe.

For a full list of publications, please visit Professor Beckles Willson's website.

Contact Rachel