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Alastair McWilliam graduated from Leeds University (Bretton Hall) in 1987. During his time at University, he was very active as both a performer and composer, founding a variety of bands and taking part in numerous festivals and competitions. His jazz suite, “Impressions”, was specially commisioned and he was the first degree student at Bretton Hall to be assessed playing improvised as well as composed music.
Alastair grew up in Durham, surrounded by colliery bands and community music making, and was concerned to see how these opportunities for young people were severely curtailed in the 1980s. He became more and more interested in the very powerful, positive role an involvement in music plays in the education and in the all round development of all children. He believes that a teacher’s high expectations, excellent relationships with students, high standards of musicianship and bags of energy and enthusiasm are the keys to unlocking the amazing potential within young people.
He moved to Cheshire in 1987 to take up his first teaching post at Frodsham High School, before becoming Head of Music at Bishop Heber High School in Malpas three years later. During his time at Bishop Heber the numbers of children learning an instrument increased from 28 to over 200. Hundreds of students had opportunities to join one of the many new performing groups, the “Grand Concert” tradition was established, and Heber groups had a busy schedule of performances in the community. He initiated tours abroard for the Concert Band, Orchestra and Jazzheber, the school’s jazz ensemble, and the school was the first in Cheshire to record and release an album in CD format back in 1995!
Alastair was granted a part time sabbatical by the school in September 1995 to work on an idea he had to develop a coordinated, quality controlled music service that he believed would better support Cheshire’s young people, schools and instrumental teachers. This experimental music service – Music for Life – expanded from two schools to twelve within the year and such was the demand he decided to leave Bishop Heber High School in 1996 in order to concentrate on developing the service. At the start of 2006, Music for Life was working with almost 100 schools and was arranging the teaching of 2200 students each week.