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Group of pupils with their violins at our specialist music school


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.

Alex Laing, Director of Music

Specialist Music


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 Music 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 boarding schools in the UK. 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

Our independent music school offers 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 (Wells has retained the option for an all-round school for those who do not wish to pursue a career in music).

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 for Music Scholarships.

Find out more about 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: Auditions and 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

We welcome applications for our specialist music school from musicians in the UK and overseas who are aged between eight and eighteen. 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: Find out more about us

It is highly recommended that you first attend one of our Be a Specialist Musician for a Day events, which are held throughout the year. 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. Click here for dates and to book your place

We also would invite you to come and see the School yourselves and to meet us at an Open Day or book a visit.

Step 2: Apply for an Audition

Before being invited to a formal audition, we would like to see examples of you playing your instrument in the first instance. This could be by attending our Be a Specialist Musician for a Day event or by sending video clips of you performing solo or with an accompanist via email.

Your performance(s) will be considered by 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: Receive an Invitation to Audition and/or Advice

Based on your performance, our Admissions department will send you the relevant forms to complete if you are invited to attend one of the Specialist Music Auditions. If you are not called for an Audition at this stage, advice will be given to help your musical development. 

Step 4: Have a Music Audition

Take part in our Music Audition (subject to invitation). Please see the grey box for details about the Audition and how to prepare. We normally hold a series of three audition weekends throughout the year.

Step 5: Audition Results

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 Music Scholarships page for more information.

Step 6: Apply for Financial Assistance

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. Please click here to see our current fees.

If you have any questions about our admissions process, please do contact our admissions team who will be very happy to help.

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

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
Violin Practice at Wells Music School UK
Wells Music College
One-to-one instrumental lessons and ensembles
Piano Club at Wells Specialist Music School UK
Piano Club
For adult learners of any ability
Wells Young Musicians String Orchestra, available at our Specialist Music School
Wells Young Musicians String Orchestra
For Grade 1-5 players aged 6-13
Lower Sixth pupils from our Specialist Music School visit local 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 team on [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 logoFriends of Music

You can find out more about being a Friend of Music on our Wells Community website.

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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