In all my travels I’ve never seen so many young people playing such difficult repertoire to such a high standard as the students at Wells Cathedral School.
Howard Klug, Professor of Clarinet at Indiana University
There are more than 250 student performances each year, ranging from solo showcases and a lunchtime concert series to symphony orchestra and chorus concerts. As well as concerts at school, it is important to expose our students to a variety of venues and wider audiences so students have recently been to Kiev, Tallinn, The Hague, Budapest, Germany and Switzerland and Hong Kong. Various ensembles also have been invited to take part in both Cheltenham Music Festival and Bath International Music Festival.
Our students also take part in festivals and competitions around the country, from the Mid-Somerset Festival held in Bath and the Two Moors Festival in Devon to BBC Young Musician of the Year and Choir of the Year.
Through Cedars Hall, which offers beautiful acoustics with its 300 seater auditorium, Eavis Hall, we have the wonderful opportunity to run a professional concert programme alongside our own. The ability to bring world-class music to Wells has opened up a myriad of opportunities and greatly benefits our students and the local community.
Quilter Hall, located in our Music Building, has 100 seats, and is perfect for our solo lunchtime concerts and intimate chamber music. Our students also perform in Wells Cathedral, perhaps the most beautiful of the great English cathedrals, which offers the scale required for many symphonic works.
Rarely have I found such talent in one place. The students at Wells were already mature players at the age of twelve! They have devoted and expert teachers that ensure a level of coaching that I have never seen in any other school, and all this in a magical surrounding, which is extremely inspiring.
Thomas Demenga, international soloist
Our Symphony Orchestra performs at least three times a year with eminent guest conductors, and we have most fortunate in recently welcoming Jac van Steen, Duncan Ward and Christopher Adey. Recent repertoire has included Shostakovich Symphony No.10, Saint-Saëns Symphony No. 3, Arutunian Trumpet Concerto, Britten Sinfonia da Requiem, Gershwin Cuban Overture and Korngold Violin Concerto. Weekly rehearsals enable thorough preparation for intensive courses before each major performance. The orchestra has been fortunate enough to have toured China and Hong Kong and performs regularly in concert halls across the country.
Wells Virtuosi is selected from the very highest level string players at the school. It rehearses for three hours per week and is directed by Matthew Souter, head of strings. It has an extensive concert schedule, which includes performances across Europe and the Far East. In July 2016 they toured across Germany and Switzerland to sell-out auditoriums. Recent repertoire has included Elgar Serenade for Strings, Holst St Paul’s Suite and Finzi Romance.
This elite female choir of 24 voices was founded in 2012 by Christopher Finch. In 2013 Choralia successfully entered the Grand Finals of ‘Let the Peoples Sing’, an international competition involving the best choirs from across Europe and North America. Choralia was placed among the best three youth and children’s choirs in this global showcase and sang to an international audience. Choralia was a finalist in the youth category of ‘Choir of the Year 2016’ at Symphony Hall, Birmingham.
Choralia’s performances have been broadcast regularly on BBC Radio 3. The choir has also performed at the Sage Gateshead, LSO St Luke’s, The Barbican, St George’s Bristol, the Philharmonie Luxembourg, Hong Kong Academy for the Performing Arts, City Hall, Hong Kong, and at its home in Wells Cathedral.
In June 2015 Choralia released its debut CD on the Naxos label. Entitled ‘Song of the Stars’, it was awarded the Editor’s Choice accolade by Gramophone Magazine.
Jazz Orchestra (previously Big Band) was formed in 1986 by Paul Denegri, head of brass. In 1991 the band won ‘The Daily Telegraph Young Big Band of the Year competition’, followed by third place in the ‘BBC Big of the Year Competition’ in 2000.
Their first commercial CD ‘Papa’s flying Home’ was produced in 2003 followed by an invitation to record a second album at Peter Gabriel’s studio, Real World, in 2008. In 2010 they returned to Real World Studios for their third album ‘Kaleidoscope’ which was a collaboration between the Big Band and students from South West Music School. The Jazz Orchestra has been very fortunate to perform and work with renowned professionals such as Pee Wee Ellis (saxophone), Ralph Salmins (drum-kit), Kenny Ball (trumpet), and Chris Barber (trombone). Jazz Orchestra is currently directed by Andy Tweed.
Cathedral Brass is just one of many ensembles within the brass department, and it is conducted by Paul Denegri, head of brass. Since its inception in 1990 it has toured extensively USA, Malaysia, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, France, Germany and Belgium, performing a variety of works such as Eric Crees’s arrangements of Bernstein West Side Story, Copland Hoedown, Rimsky Korsakov Cortège that were written for the London Symphony Orchestra brass section. Other standard repertoire includes Mussorgsky arr. Elgar Howarth Pictures at an Exhibition, Dukas Fanfare for La Peri, Copland Fanfare for the Common Man.
Cathedral Brass rehearses for two hours a week as a full ensemble and also has weekly sectionals. It is an orchestral brass section that performs one to a part. The group also performs on period instruments using natural trumpets, natural horns and baroque horns. Cathedral Brass has within its library a large private collection for large forces of period brass instruments; some is extremely rare and dates back 450 years.
It performs regularly as part of the school Premiere concert series and the unique Brass & Percussion Promenade concerts in Wells Cathedral and also joins forces with other departments – recently for performances of Rutter Gloria, Walton Coronation Te Deum, Willcocks From Darkness to Light.
Wind Ensemble is one of the wind department’s premier groups and is under the direction of BSO conductor and bassoonist Pete Harrison. The Wind Ensemble rehearses for two hours every week and performs regularly in Wells and across the country. Recent performances have included works by Gordon Jacob, Richard Strauss, Jean Françaix and John McCabe. The Wind Ensemble has over time commissioned three new works from Malcolm Binney, Colin Touchin and most recently a piece for Winds by Malcolm Ellerby.
This versatile and exciting percussion ensemble is directed by Jayne Obradovic, head of percussion. Not only has it been fortunate enough to have recently toured Hong Kong, Budapest and Malaysia, it has also been privileged to have undertaken some remarkable outreach work with hearing impaired students both in the UK and abroad. It has had numerous masterclasses with eminent artists such as David Hocking (BBCSO), Sam Walton (LSO), Patrick King (WNO), Eric Sammut (Paris Conservatoire), Nebosja Zivkovic, Arthur Lipner and a Reich day with Colin Currie.
Please see our instrumental department pages for other opportunities available…
All specialists have access to practice time before and after school, with rooms allocated in advance as required. Senior School pupils are also able to use the practice facilities during the evening as well as through the weekend. Practice facilities are of course available all through the weekend.
Lower School and Junior School pupils have daily practice periods built into their academic timetable. Our team of graduate music assistants supervise them to ensure that good practice habits are instilled at a young age and that they make use of this valuable time. Specialists can receive up to two hours of tuition on their first study instrument so it is crucial that regular daily practice is supported in this way.
Apart from the brilliant standard, what really impresses me about the pupils at Wells Cathedral School is that despite all the dedication and long hours of practice, they always seem to be such well-balanced folk.
Nigel Kennedy, international concert violinist
One cannot fail to be impressed by the Wells Music Department. There is so much variety and yet the opportunity to specialise and prepare for the challenge and enjoyment of a career in music. I would encourage any parent to choose Wells Cathedral School for their talented musical son or daughter.
Peter Manning, Concertmaster, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
The life of a specialist musician is a busy one with scheduled daily practice, weekly lessons and rehearsals, many exciting concert opportunities and tours so time needs to be available for all of these activities to take place. Every student will have slightly different needs dependent on their age, instrument, ability and aspirations so heads of department and tutors play a crucial role in advising and supporting both parents and students as choices need to be made.
The Lower School (Years 7-9) curriculum is carefully designed to ensure all subjects are given the appropriate time whilst enabling practice to be incorporated into the school day. However careful selection is vital later on if students wish to be high class professional musicians. Time and space is always necessary in their weekly schedule. Academic music at GCSE and A level is a compulsory subject for those following a specialist programme.
This careful selection of subjects does not mean that a different career path is not possible if circumstances or desires change. On the contrary, we have had specialists decide to become doctors or lawyers (amongst other professions!) both before and after attending music college.
GCSE music is a required course of study for all specialist and special provision musicians entering Year 10. Specialist musicians are also required to take A Level Music and are encouraged to take a course in Music Technology. Special provision musicians are strongly encouraged to take A Level Music as one of their choices.
The ‘M’ forms (Music forms in Years 7-9 for specialists, special provision students and choristers) follow a slightly reduced academic load to provide additional time within the school day for instrumental lessons and practice. These students follow a specific course, which also includes separate theory and aural training. Associated Board theory exams will be sat to at least Grade 5 level, and some students will also go on to sit the higher grades during their Lower School years.
Broadly the aim of the ‘M’ form course is to develop a sound understanding of a series of concepts and topics each year, while encouraging a creative and individual response through improvisation and composition. We place an emphasis on developing:
By doing this, the ‘M’ form helps to create musically intelligent and creative performers.
Music for all other Lower School forms is taught as part of the integrated arts programme, which takes a thematic approach to the study of music, art, drama and dance.
Students study music through the integration of performing, composing, listening and appraising with many opportunities for the use of music technology. The music covered within the syllabus falls into four areas of study, including instrumental music, vocal music, music for stage and screen, and fusion. The course has the flexibility to allow students to capitalise on their personal musical interests.
A-Level Music students will study music with an integrated approach through performing, composing and listening extending the skills developed at GCSE learning to appraise in ways that emphasise their interdependence.
There are no limits on the instruments (or voices) and types of repertoire that may be presented in performance, and we encourage the study of the widest possible range of music.
The course aims to develop the knowledge, musical and technical skills required to produce music using modern production techniques. The music technology department houses two suites of Apple Macs that run Logic Pro as well as a separate recording studio/live room. Cedars Hall offers further opportunities with its state-of-the-art equipment.
Three main areas of study underpin work are:
Studying music technology provides the opportunity to embrace recent developments in the field. IT involves much practical work and encourages the cultivation of a wide range of skills. Students will have the opportunity to sequence MIDI, record live instruments, produce CD’s and compose using music technology.