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 students 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 students 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 a student wishes to be considered for a specialist music place, they need to apply for an audition. There are three categories of music at Wells:

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

Special Provision students 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 students 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 students 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 students have the potential to become musicians, and develop their musical skills and interests. Students 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 music scholarships page 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 students 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 students 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 students 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 student 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.

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 Neeman 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 students 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 Awards page 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

 

Auditions and Open Days

Open Days and Tailored Visits

Our open days help give you a feel for the school – we have a magical atmosphere, and you have to see it to believe it! We hold a music open day each autumn and school open days throughout the year. If you can’t make an open day, we would be happy to arrange a visit.

Personalised taster days are available and there is the potential that these can include a stay in a boarding house. Taster days are a great way to meet key staff and spend time with the other students to really discover what it would be like to become a student here.

Please contact admissions on 01749 834213 or [email protected] or click here to see our forthcoming open days.

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

Auditions

We welcome applications from musicians in the UK and overseas who are aged between eight and eighteen. We hold a series of three audition weekends throughout the year: in November, January/February and March/April. It is always advisable to apply for a place early, ideally before Christmas for a place the following academic year. In exceptional circumstances other arrangements may be made.

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.

The first step is to complete the Music Application Form, which can be found here. Along with the application form we request that you send a DVD or link to a recent performance online. Both the application form and performance(s) will be considered by the Director of Music and the head of the relevant instrumental/voice department. (for example, if you play the clarinet, the Head of Woodwind) to assess whether or not you are ready to be invited to audition. If you are not called for an audition at this stage, advice can be given to help your musical development.

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 money matters section for more information.

For further details and deadline dates, please see our Music Awards page.

Consultations

At any time of year it is possible to request a private consultation, which will take the form of an evaluated performance with advice on how a student might further their musical studies. Consultations can be arranged for a mutually convenient time. For an application form, please see our Music Awards page.

Preparing for a Specialist Music Audition

Applicants are generally expected to attend in auditions in person. For those based outside of the UK or for whom it is impossible to attend, they may be able to submit performances on DVD, or via streaming media such as YouTube, in place of attending the 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 15 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.
  • Group activity in departments (30 mins)
    • Applicants will be grouped into instrumental disciplines and undertake a group activity led by a member of the music faculty.

Other Components:

You will also be asked to undertake the following:

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

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
Primary School Christmas Concerts
Primary School Christmas Concerts
Open to regional primary schools
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

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 students, 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.