Shield, who was born in 1748 in Swalwell, south of the Tyne, wrote an operatic piece called Rosina, the story of a country girl. The original score turned up in Gateshead public library, and was passed to a local musical director who found the melody near the end.
Chris Stewart, of the BBC's Look North television programme, who made the discovery, said a letter that Burns wrote in 1788 revealed he had taken his lead for Auld Lang Syne from a "man's singing".
Gateshead council now wants Auld Lang Syne recognised as a local tune in time for the millennium celebrations. Sid Henderson, the council's chairman of libraries and arts, said: "Come New Year's Eve 2000, millions of people across the globe will be singing along to the tune [Shield] wrote."
Mr Stewart said: "It's certainly controversial and could help put Gateshead on the musical map, even though the claim to fame won't go down too well north of the border."Reuse content