Cecilia McDowall

Cecilia McDowall

Today we meet Cecilia McDowall a composer and mum of 2 grown up children.

Cecilia tells us about her career, how she fitted her life in music around her family and what she is doing now that her family have grown up.


BoardroomMum Can you please tell me a little bit about your background?

Cecilia McDowall I read music at Edinburgh and London Universities, gaining a B.Mus. and a Masters degree, and have recently been awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Music. I won a number of competitions and awards for composing when I was a student, which all reinforced the direction I wanted to pursue. My father was a professional flautist, playing at the Royal Opera House as principal for many years, and he also ran two chamber music ensembles which meant our house was always full of music and rehearsing musicians. I had plans to write music from an early age but after leaving university being a composer didn’t seem a realistic way of earning a living. I put these ideas on hold and taught music at the Yehudi Menuhin School and at Trinity College of Music up until my son was born.

BoardroomMum How many children do you have and their ages?

Cecilia McDowall I have two children, a son of 31 who is a doctor in the North East and a daughter who is 28, a radio producer working with an independent radio production company in London making programmes for the BBC.

BoardroomMum Did your approach to your career change when you became a mum?

Cecilia McDowall Yes, it did! I wanted to look after the children myself in those pre-school years but then went back to teaching part time once they were at school. My husband looked after the children when I taught at Trinity College on Saturdays and, if needed, my parents looked after them when I taught at the Yehudi Menuhin School, which was lovely for the children. (Good for them to get a break from home life!)

BoardroomMum Any tips or recommendations for other mums out there who wish to do what you have done?

Cecilia McDowall I feel it is never too late to do what we really want to do. When my children were aged about 16 and 13 I felt if I didn’t become active as a composer now the moment would pass so I went back to being a student again and gradually built up contacts in the music industry, resulting in commissions and publications and so on. It was rather late on in life to be doing this and really would have been easier if I had been more decisive or ruthless earlier in my professional life. But then I would have missed the delight (and exhaustion) of looking after the children.

BoardroomMum Would you have done anything differently?

Cecilia McDowall No, I don’t think I would. I feel that perhaps, by being older, it could be that there are more experiences to draw from which might influence the way I write music.

And those childhood years pass by so quickly it seemed a pity to miss the subtle changes and fast development of one’s children. Undeniably there are maddening, shatteringly exhausting moments but they are far outweighed, I think, by all the funny moments and interesting discussions children have about Life, Universe and Everything. Serious stuff.

BoardroomMum There is a lot of debate around women in music. What needs to be done to see more female performers/composers/conductors reach their potential and become more widely known?

Cecilia McDowall There are far more women composers now than ever before, such a wealth of talent. I feel that it is classical music in general which does not receive the press coverage it deserves. And I certainly feel that it is most important that all women should have the same opportunities as men. How that is achieved is more complex, of course. I do think there are fashions in taste, the climate of the moment, and yet all this seems peripheral. If one writes or performs to the best of one’s ability then surely that is the way forward.

BoardroomMum Can you tell us some more about your work today? What inspires you?

Cecilia McDowall Setting words in a foreign language can provide a real stimulus, with a need to get under the skin of the meaning, finding where the stresses lie in the text. Recently, I composed a piece for the 75th Anniversary of Kristallnacht at Westminster Abbey (Through a glass, darkly for solo cello and voices) and for this occasion used texts from both the Jewish and Anglican faiths; a Hebrew evening prayer, a Psalm and an inscription on a wall by a WW2 survivor. Much inspires me; literature, art, the dance, science, beauty in the landscape and each commission is unique according to length and the instruments or voices it is written for.

BoardroomMum What are your plans personally and professionally?

Cecilia McDowall Personally, I love spending time with my family. As the children have grown up there is that gentle unwinding of being a parent until they leave home and then a need to adapt to being almost childless again. I greatly enjoy my relationship with my children, keeping in touch, hearing about their busy lives and meeting up whenever we can.

Professionally, there are many performances of my work around the world at the moment. I have just returned from a trip to the US and will travel there again shortly to hear a world premiere.

Now that the children are grown up it is easier to accept work whenever and wherever and I have commissions going up to 2015.

BoardroomMum Thank you Cecilia for your time and a brief insight into the world of a composer. We at www.boardroommum.com wish you every continued success.