Michael Winwood was born in Halesowen in 1952. From his early years he displayed a fascination with the piano and loved singing. Though his education was entirely conventional and local, his instruction in piano playing was begun at home by his father, Charles. However, the real musical influence in his childhood was his rather august grandmother, Ruby - who had been a serious singer in her youth, and her brother, Michael's great uncle, Leonard Rayner - the renowned concert pianist and teacher.
At the age of 8 Michael was sent to the Leonard Rayner Piano School where he met the great man and was taught by him until Leonard's death some years later. Ruth Cooke took over the school and Michael remained her pupil until his late teens, during which time he absorbed the special principle and values of the 'Rayner Method'. Under Miss Cooke's training he was pronounced to 'have the touch', one of the special qualities of Leonard Rayner's playing. Throughout his youth, Michael played the piano every day, took up the violin (greatly enjoying the school orchestra), continued singing and, broadening his artistic sensibilities, developed as a painter, and even made money selling many of his pictures. This in turn financed his love of riding! 'I always seemed to be drawn in many directions, with a passion for English Literature, history and architecture. Never a dull moment for me.'
During his twenties Michael took time out to follow his vocation to the Priesthood, both at Oscott College and at Brompton Oratory. Though the life proved too restricting and he gave up before completing the training, Michael says ” the education was wonderful, especially the philosophy and history. Though I did have to sing every day, I missed the piano dreadfully and didn't even have my violin with me”.
When he retuned to Birmingham, Michael took up an education degree at Birmingham University (completed at Newman College). Here he was taught by the wonderful teacher Wim Roose - a pianist who himself had, as a student played for Leonard Rayner. Here Michael says "I really developed my piano playing, and had the rigorous joy of singing lessons with Andrea Callidine and later with the opera singer, Robert Milner. I learned a lot in concert performance too."
Michael's first teaching job was at the Archbishop Grimshaw School in the music department, then growing rapidly. The job was thought quite tough at the time, 'I loved teaching from the word go, and I liked the kids, but I had to learn real control and discipline, in order to get the best out of them. We had a lot of freedom to develop the curriculum in those days, and I had a lot of support from the staff. It was a great time to be in teaching. I did cultivate one or two Stars as well and I eventually became Head of Department. Alas government intervention throughout the 80s seemed to knock much of the fun out of it - for us and the pupils! We seemed to become so busy getting them to jump through hoops that there wasn't the time or focus to inspire the pupils.'
Michael left school teaching in 1990 and took over from Ruth Cooke the Leonard Rayner Piano School when she finally retired. 'I was delighted to take over the School from Miss Cooke. It was like coming home. I felt able to bring to my teaching the rigour and discipline of the classroom with the freedom and focus of one-to-one tuition.' The classroom taught me how to get the best out of young people, but the Leonard Rayner School brings the special cultivation of confidence, the development of artistic sensitivity, a real skill training, and the making of great music for its own PLEASURE - the examination results are pretty impressive too!'
The School continues to flourish, now based at Michael's home in Harborne Lane, Selly Oak where he lives with his Norwegian partner, Egil, and two cats Rupert and Camille, 'much beloved of my students'.
Michael had also played first violin with the South Birmingham Sinfonia, a flourishing locally based orchestra, and for a number of years was Chairman.