FOR someone who insists he is “not a music teacher but a musician” Chris Wormald has taught an awful lot of people how to play an instrument.

In fact, the man behind the phenomenal success of Smithills’ bands and choirs is definitely responsible for an impressive number of professional musicians and performers dotted around the world.

A glance back at his childhood might provide some answers. Born and brought up in Bury, Chris and his sister Jill (now acclaimed author Jill Hudson) were surrounded by music from an early age.

“My Mum played violin and sang for the Queen in 1936 and my Dad played piano to entertain people when he was in the RAF”, explained Chris, now 57.

An influential teacher at Sunnybank Primary School, Stuart Horsfall, fostered Chris’s love of music and he particularly remembers a school trip to the Halle when Chris was “sitting right behind Sir John Barbirolli conducting – I was just fascinated by his control of the orchestra.”

Derby Grammar School continued to nurture his love of music. His dream was to play the French horn professionally, but he also wanted to share his music in the classroom so he studied music, maths and took his PGCE at the University of Hull.

Job applications brought him a positive reply from Bolton Council and, after an interview in which the then 21 year-old played the French horn, he was offered a new post as Head of Brass for the town.

This involved teaching regularly for a day at all the town’s secondary schools in a role Chris “thoroughly enjoyed” for six and a half years. At the same time, he was fulfilling his dreams playing professionally with the Halle Orchestra and the BBC Philharmonic.

If he loved making music himself, Chris also loved firing passion in others for the subject. So, in 1989, he successfully applied for the job of Head of Music and Drama at Smithills School. “There was no history of bands there for me to build on, which was great,” recalled Chris. “I could start with a blank musical sheet.”

His vision and obvious enthusiasm inspired his pupils. One of his drama students was actor Paul Nicholls who has remained a friend. When Nicholls landed the role of a teacher in TV drama Ackley Bridge, he monitored Chris in the classroom to help his performance.

It was, however, Smithills School’s musical achievements that made the school and Chris well-known, not just across England but across the world.

As the number of pupils learning instruments grew, so did the bands. With the backing of then head Mike Keogh, Chris started teaching A level music at Smithills, ensuring a pathway for the young musicians.

Soon, Smithills’ bands and orchestras were winning competitions, not just against other schools but against adult bands.

The youngsters and their influential conductor travelled to New Zealand, Japan, America, Norway, Holland, Germany, France and Belgium.

The name of Smithills became synonymous with musical excellence. Chris was made Classic FM Music Teacher of the Year; the prize bought cash for new school instruments.

Chris, determined to ensure that every child who wanted to could play an instrument, spearheaded ongoing fundraising. He also conducted Eagley Band and was its MD. He established a community band and a community choir along with a pensioner’s band at Smithills and was a founder member of Bolton Symphony Orchestra and MD at Wingates Band for two years.

Chris has now left teaching after more than 25 years at Smithills but continues to conduct, play professionally and encourage others musically in a career that will undoubtedly resonate for years.