Born in London in 1951, composer Cecilia McDowall studied at the University of Edinburgh and Trinity College of Music, London.
After stepping away from her music studies to devote attention to her growing family, Cecilia McDowall resumed her study of composition and headed to London College of Music and Media to earn her master's degree. A student of Adam Gorb, Robert Saxton, and Joseph Horovitz, she earned the Wilfred Josephs Prize. She has composed for such artists as James Galway, the London Mozart Players, the Kingston Brass Ensemble, and the Thames Philharmonic Choir. For the ensemble Fibonacci Sequence, she has penned several compositions of chamber music. Her compositions garnered the Chappell Prize and several other awards, and in 2014 she was given the British Composer Award for choral music.
Her talents extended to children's opera with Deep Waters. She collaborated on the project for the W11 Opera with author Christie Dickason. A recording of her chamber music was issued by Deux-Elles and featured flautist Emma Williams and pianist Richard Shaw.
The 2010s saw McDowall's prominence with audiences steadily increase, especially in Britain. The boom in British choral music has been congenial for her, and she scored a major success with The Shipping Forecast (2011), a choral work whose texts included actual shipping forecasts. Her short works were consistently included on recordings and concert programs by major choirs including The Sixteen (on a pair of different albums in 2016), the BBC Singers, and, in 2017, the Choir of Queen's College, Oxford, which programmed her setting of I know that my Redeemer liveth on its album A New Heaven. In 2017 McDowall was named an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Church Music. The International Record Review has opined that McDowall has "a communicative gift that is very rare in modern music." She has served in composer residences at Oxford and at Dulwich College, London.