MUSIC AT WELLS

Music has been the heart of our community since the School was founded in 909 and the choristers of Wells Cathedral play a central part in our school to this day.

Here at Wells we believe that everyone can engage with and appreciate music and that it enriches our lives. Our pupils sing, develop their rhythmic skills, compose and access music through technology. We explore the interface between music and other disciplines and embrace music of all styles and periods – from Gregorian chant through to contemporary repertoire and genres. We encourage young people to push musical boundaries through innovation and creativity and to communicate through engaging with their audiences.

Wells boasts a Cathedral Choir School and a specialist music school set within the crucial wider educational context so that non-specialist and specialist musicians can benefit from a comprehensive range of academic subjects and co-curricular activities, world-class instrumental teachers and visiting artists and access to amazing facilities…and all of this in the most beautiful, stimulating, supportive, and safe environment in which you can progress your talents and be what you are.

Mark Stringer, Director of Music

Specialist Music

Overview

Wells offers a specialist music scheme for pupils who wish to pursue a career in music. They will receive a first-class, pre-professional training from teachers who are world-class musicians themselves, many of whom are active performers and teach at UK conservatories. Our musicians achieve great success both as performers and in public examinations.

Specialist musicians have opportunities to take part in many activities that are simply not available at other specialist music schools without detracting in anyway from their development, as Wells is the only specialist music school which has a community that is also made up of non-specialist musicians. We find this helps our musicians maintain a balanced perspective and equips them for the role they may play as a musician in the wider world. Non-specialists also enjoy the excellent music tuition available as part of the deeper and more varied programme we offer, with many forming part of some of our numerous ensembles.

Music Categories

If someone wishes to be considered for a specialist music place, they need to apply for an auditionThere are three categories of music at Wells:

Specialist musicians undertake pre-professional training, designed for pupils looking to further their studies at conservatoire level in the UK or abroad when they leave Wells. These pupils may already be considering a future career within the music profession.

Special Provision pupils may want a particular focus on music in their daily lives, but for a number of reasons, may not yet be ready or want a specialist commitment. The Special Provision category is ideal for pupils who may be looking to see where music takes them and wish to keep their options open. The standard of teaching and opportunities match those available to the Specialists, however Special Provision programmes offer more flexibility.

General pupils may come to Wells for reasons not directly related to music but wish to take advantage of the opportunities offered by our rich, musically alive environment.

At Wells we consider that all pupils have the potential to become musicians, and develop their musical skills and interests. Pupils therefore often move between the above categories during their time at Wells.

It is very important that all applicants realise that the musical part of the application and audition process will result in a purely musical judgment (Specialist or Special Provision) and a musical category does not imply an entitlement to any automatic bursary funding. Please see our Scholarships section below for more information.

Aims and the Wells Experience

Aims and Ethos 

At Wells we live by our motto, ‘Esto Quod Es’ (Be What You Are). Our purpose is to enable you to discover yourself and realise your aspirations. We do this through providing support and encouragement within a beautiful, stimulating learning environment; high calibre teaching and training including masterclasses from the world’s finest performers; as well as extraordinary performing opportunities, which include hundreds of concerts each year and regular tours within the UK and overseas, including Europe, Asia and the USA. We aim for your experience at Wells to positively impact both your development and perspective of the world.

Musicians at Wells are encouraged to be innovative, resourceful, versatile and to pursue excellence in all that they do. The pursuit of excellence is demanding, yet ultimately rewarding, and you will be supported all the way. When the time comes for you to leave Wells, you’ll be equipped for the professional and personal challenges in life. Our Old Wellensians push boundaries and have become renowned for forging successful, exciting and fulfilling careers all over the world in their chosen field. Our Notable Alumni and Life after Wells sections give a taste of how important the formative years spent at Wells were to their future careers.

As an independent boarding school with a specialist music faculty, we are able to offer the specialist music training required for pupils aspiring to for a career in music without the ‘hot-housing’ of other specialist music schools. Our specialist musicians study alongside non-specialists and have opportunities open to them beyond music – from outdoor education and academia to sports, drama and the creative arts, giving them a rounded education, and providing opportunity for creative collaborations without diluting the pursuit of musical excellence. Our pupils form lifelong friendships with specialists and non-specialists alike within this exhilarating and innovative school.

Whatever it is that you want to do, we are here to help you nurture your skills and interests and enable you to become the very best you can be.

It is clear to me that this is a school where pupils receive not only top-notch training, but the kind of attention that allows them to blossom as individual artists with unique personalities.  I would not hesitate to recommend Wells Cathedral School to any young musician.

James Ehnes, internationally acclaimed violinist

Studying at Wells

We offer specialist musicians a broad and varied range of academic subjects. We aim to provide every pupil with the right balance of subjects for them as they journey through the school, which leads to a very individual and tailored approach. Please see the links below for specific details on what musical disciplines we offer as well as our Music Studies page for more details.

Key Staff

History & MDS

Music has been at the heart of Wells since it started as a choir school in 909. The chorister school for young boys with unbroken voices and the grammar school for ‘teenagers’ were united during the sixteenth century. The school became co-educational in 1969, but it was in 1970 that Wells became one of just three specialist music schools in England, as Wells and Chetham’s joined the Menuhin school as a national centre of musical excellence.

The scheme began with just 12 violinists, and the music school was bought with a generous grant from the Gulbenkian Foundation in the same year. The immediate success of the specialist scheme led to a grant from the Leverhulme Trust in 1975 enabling cellists to join. Yfrah Neaman became involved with the School in 1971 and visited seven or eight times a year helping to guide and support the cause of specialist musical education where professional standards should be aspired to.

Many joint events took place with Chetham’s as both schools embarked on this new venture. During this time much time and effort was needed to find funds to support musically-talented children whose parents could not afford the fees. In July 1981 the Department of Education and Science announced that it would grant aid according to income to a number of children chosen for their specialist gift in each of the music schools.

The Department for Education’s Music and Dance scheme (as it is now known) aims to ensure that children with exceptional potential can access world-class specialist training alongside a balanced education regardless of their personal circumstances. It now supports almost 800 specially gifted pupils to attend both Music and Dance schools across the country.

There are now four specialist music schools:

  • Chetham’s School of Music – Manchester
  • Purcell School – Hertfordshire
  • Wells Cathedral School – Somerset
  • Yehudi Menuhin School – Surrey

And four dance schools:

  • The Royal Ballet School, lower and upper – London
  • Elmhurst School for Dance – Birmingham
  • Tring Park School for the Performing Arts – Hertfordshire
  • Hammond School – Chester

To be eligible for the music schools you must be aged between 8 and 19, and all grants are means tested. There are two parental contribution scales, one for boarding pupils and the other for day pupils. Parental contributions are assessed based on gross family income; there is a sliding scale, which effectively means the higher the income, the greater the contribution. Please see our Music Scholarships section below to see the current scale and how to apply.

Find out more our School’s history by clicking here.

What I love about Wells Cathedral School music is their tremendous spirit of adventure. Budding young musicians of ‘whatever sort’ who come to Wells can be assured of the broadest, most boundary-crossing and exhilarating journey.

Charles Hazlewood, conductor

Join Us

To prepare a talented child for the tough life of a professional violinist, look no further than Wells Cathedral School; it has to be the perfect place to start.

Tasmin Little, international violinist

We would love to help you find out more about what we have to offer our specialist musicians. Please see below for some options available: 

Open Days

Ordinarily, we would be very keen to invite you to come and see the School yourselves and to meet us at an Open Day, but as we need to limit visitors to the School for the health and safety of our community, we hope that you will connect with us at one of our Virtual Open Days or have a Virtual Visit in the first instance. 

Be a Specialist Musician for a Day

We suggest that you join us for one of our Be a Specialist Musician for a Day events (held throughout the year), which will be held remotely this autumn. Through these events, you will see what life is like for a Specialist Musician at Wells, find out what it really means to focus on your music and gain a proper insight from our pupils.These days are ideally suited to pupils in Year 6 and above.

During our virtual day you will: 

There will also be an opportunity for parents/guardians to meet with Karen Finch, our Strategic Music Planner, to discuss music categories, the process and finances.

How to Book

To book a place, please visit our Open Day page where you can find our available forthcoming events.  Please note you will need to register by completing the form on the event page at least a week in advance.

Auditions

We welcome applications from musicians in the UK and overseas who are aged between eight and eighteen. We normally hold a series of three audition weekends throughout the year: in November, January/February and March/April. We would highly recommend that you arrange an online consultation before applying for an Audition.

To gain a place you need to demonstrate a passion for your instrument/voice, a desire to learn and have the commitment and dedication to strive to fulfil your musical potential. Grades and exam results are not essential entry requirements.

Step 1

It is highly recommended that you first attend one of our Be a Specialist Musician for a Day events to find out more about music life at Wells and receive advice about your music audition.

Step 2

Complete and return our Music Application, our registration form and registration fee. If you have not attended Be a Specialist Musician for a Day then we request that you send a video clip via email or link to a recent performance online.

Both the application form and performance(s) will be considered by the Director of Music and the Co-ordinator of the relevant instrumental/voice department. (for example, if you play the clarinet, the Co-ordinator of Woodwind) to assess whether or not you are ready to be invited to Audition.

Step 3

You will be contacted and advised if you are being invited to attend one of the Specialist Music Auditions. If you are not called for an Audition at this stage, advice can be given to help your musical development.

Step 4

Take part in our Music Audition (see the grey box for details).

Step 5

You will be notified in writing with the result of your Music Audition.  It is very important that all applicants realise that the musical parts of the application and audition process will result in purely musical judgments, and that any outcome in the form of a particular musical status (Specialist or Special Provision) does not imply an entitlement to any automatic bursary funding. Please see our Scholarships Section below for more information.

Step 6

Should you require financial assistance in order to accept a place we encourage you to complete the necessary financial documents early in the application process. This can greatly reduce the timescale and speed up the final outcome. All requests for bursary support and an MDS grant are means tested

Key Dates 2020/2021

Music Auditions

  • Saturday 28 November 2020 (deadline: 13 November 2020)
  • Saturday 30 January 2021 (deadline: 15 January 2021)

Be a Specialist Musician for a Day

  • Thursday 15 October 2020: virtual (now full)
  • Wednesday 11 November 2020: virtual (deadline: 4 November 2020)
  • Thursday 18 March 2021 (deadline: 11 March 2021)
Preparing for a Specialist Music Audition

The audition process is not designed to be an intimidating experience, and the panel will be looking to identify your current skills and future potential. You should choose repertoire which you feel confident and comfortable in your ability to perform, and discuss your choices with your instrumental (or vocal) teacher. The audition day will include the following components:

Musical Elements:

  • Panel Audition (15 Minutes):
    • Prepared Performance. Two contrasting pieces on the applicant’s first study instrument (or voice), with a total maximum duration of 10 minutes for both pieces combined. Suitable extracts from longer works will be permitted. An accompanist will be provided, if required, along with an opportunity for a short rehearsal beforehand. First study composition applicants will present two contrasting pieces to the panel in the form of fully notated scores and recordings.
    • Unprepared performance. Applicants will be given a short piece suitable for their first study instrument (or voice). They will have a few minutes to prepare before performing to the panel. First study composition applicants will be asked to undertake a short unseen compositional exercise in place of the unprepared performance
    • A brief discussion with members of the panel, which will consist of three or four members of the Music Faculty.
  • Aural and Theory
    • A short session with one of the academic music teachers to ascertain the level of aural skills, theory knowledge and broad musical understanding.

You will also be asked to undertake the following:

  • School entrance assessments (if appropriate)
  • A general interview

Music Scholarships

We encourage talented young musicians to audition for our specialist music scheme (please see the ‘Join Us’ section above for how to apply). Successful applicants may be awarded one of two different types of music scholarships: the Music and Dance Scheme (MDS) grant funded by the Department for Education (DfE) and our own Music Scholarships. Please note that due to the number of applicants and the limited number of scholarships available, not all candidates awarded a specialist place will receive a scholarship.


About our Music Scholarships


Our Music Scholarships are:

  • For candidates awarded the status of Specialist or Special Provision Musician who are ineligible for or not awarded an MDS grant.
  • Awarded based on merit, ranging from 10% to 50% of day fees. 
  • Awarded solely at our discretion.
  • In certain circumstances available in conjunction with means-tested bursaries.

About the MDS Grant

MDS grants are:

  • Only available to applicants awarded a Specialist music place.
  • Worth up to 100% of tuition, boarding and music tuition fees.
  • Means tested – Parental contributions are calculated according to relevant income scales provided by the DfE each year (see the table further down this page).
  • Only available to applicants awarded a Specialist music place.
  • Not open to all applicants as specific eligibility requirements need to be met.
  • Limited in number.
  • Not available to those applying for a place as a chorister with the Wells Cathedral Choir.

Key MDS eligibility criteria:

  • Pupils must be aged between 8 and 18 years.
  • Pupils must have been resident in the UK for at least two calendar years (January to December) preceding the first of January of the year in which the place is being taken up.
  • Special rules apply to UK citizens living abroad.
  • Under current DfE rule, overseas pupils who have been resident in the UK, or have been boarding pupils in the uk, for two full calendar years or more are also eligible for a grant under the Scheme. 
  • Applicants aged 16 or over from the EU are also eligible for a grant (tuition only) under the scheme, provided they have been resident in their home country for at least three full calendar years.
  • We do not yet know the impact of the UK leaving the EU on overseas pupils.

General

If awarded an MDS grant:

  • The table below gives an indication of how much parents may need to contribute based on their ‘Relevant Income’.
  • Relevant income includes gross salaries, self-employed earrings, capital gains and all unearned income such as rent, interest and dividends from the previous tax year.
  • Parents complete an annual grant application (normally in May or June), which includes a declaration of income and this determines the amount of fees to be paid by parents.

For more information about our music scholarships or the MDS Grant, please contact Karen Finch, Strategic Music Planner: [email protected].

Parents’ annual contribution to fees 2020/21 for MDS Grant Recipients

Relevant Income

(£ per annum)
Day Boarding
10,000 £0 £0
20,000 £348 £540
30,000 £1,350 £1,683
40,000 £2,349 £3,079
50,000 £3,378 £4,662
60,000 £4,665 £6,462
70,000 £6,093 £8,292
80,000 £7,593 £10,191
90,000 £9,093 £12,186
100,000 £10,593 £14,184
110,000 £12,093 £16,185
120,000 £13,593 £18,186
130,000 £15,093 £20,184
140,000 £16,593 £22,185
150,000 £18,093 £24,186
160,000 £19,593 £26,184
170,000 £21,093 £28,185
180,000 £22,593 £30,186
190,000 £24,093 £32,184

Notable Alumni

Life After Wells

The Music department at Wells provides outstanding tuition and performance opportunities. I have witnessed many talented musicians from Wells go on to become some of the finest professional players in the country.

Julian Lloyd -Webber, international concert cellist

Tim Orpen, Clarinet
Rob Clark, Baritone
   
Kizzy Brookes, Percussion
Rachael Pankhurst (oboe), Connie Tanner (bassoon), Hetty Snell (cello) & Julian Wilkins (conductor)
James Buckle, Trombone
Joseph Shiner, Clarinet
           

Latest News

Music Outreach Activities

We are committed to offering an extensive music outreach programme to the local community and schools nationwide all under the umbrella of our Wells Music Academy. We offer a variety of musical activities for individuals and schools. See below for details of our regular programme.
Overview of our regular programme
Single Reed Day at Wells Cathedral School
Instrument Skills Days
Open to various abilities and ages
Students playing violin at Wells Music College
Wells Music College
One-to-one instrumental lessons and ensembles
Man performing at the Piano Club at Wells Cathedral School
Piano Club
For adult learners of any ability
Wells Young Musicians String Orchestra
Wells Young Musicians String Orchestra
For Grade 3 players aged 6-11
Y12-Visit to local primary schools
Musical Performance Visits
Our Y12 students visit local primary schools
Song Squad rehearsing at Wells Cathedral
Song Squad
For boys and girls in years 3-6
Find out more

Please click here for more details about our music outreach activities or contact our music outreach co-ordinator, Dominique Swain, on 01749 834487 / [email protected]

Latest News

Support Us

The Friends of Music charity was created to support and raise funds for the talented and enthusiastic young people who study and play music at the school. Through the Wells Foundation, others choose to support our students with monetary gifts. Many of our talented young musicians go on to highly successful careers in the world of music, and they benefit enormously from the support provided by the generous and interested audience of Friends and other supporters.
Friends of Music

The Friends of Music at Wells Cathedral School was created to support and raise funds for the talented and enthusiastic young people who study and play music at the school. Many of them go on to highly successful careers in the world of music and they benefit greatly from the support provided by the generous and interested audience of Friends.

Although the Friends of Music works very closely with the School, it is run independently by a management committee elected from among the Friends’ members.

The benefits of being a Friend

Wells Cathedral School offers a wide range of concerts by visiting professional soloists and ensembles as well as its own highly talented pupils, in the new state-of-the-art Cedars Hall, in Wells Cathedral and in the intimate medieval Quilter Hall. Friends of Music receive advance information of all these concerts, and discounted ticket prices. They are also sent email invitations to additional free events and masterclasses, as well as a biannual magazine giving an insight into the activities of the music department, and other school magazines.

Financial support for music at Wells

After minimal administrative expenses, all income is gifted to the School to purchase new instruments, to help subsidise concert tours abroad, and to meet other requests from the music department. In recent years these have ranged from major grants for a concert grand piano and towards the building and equipping of Cedars Hall, to more modest but essential items such as new piano stools and music stands.

Join us

Single annual membership £20
Single life membership £200
Joint annual membership £30
Joint life membership £300

To join, please fill out our Friends of Music Application Form.

Wells Foundation

If you would like to help us in our mission to provide long-term strategic development, funding and sustainability to one of the country’s oldest and most cherished schools, there are a number of ways in which to choose from. Click here for more information.

Join Us

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