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
Wells offers a specialist music faculty for students who wish to go on to have a career in music. This option both complements our comprehensive range of activities available to all students and offers additional opportunities for students who wish to pursue music in a more focused manner.
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 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.
Wells is the only specialist music school who 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.
If a student wishes to be considered for a specialist music place, they need to apply for an audition. Based on their audition, they are placed in one of three categories:
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 Musicians are students who want a particular focus on music in their daily lives, but who, for a number of reasons, may not want or yet be ready for a specialist commitment. Special Provision, as musical status, is ideal for such students, who may be looking to see where music takes them, or who are unsure about their career path beyond Wells. The standard of teaching and opportunities match those available to the Specialists, however Special Provision programmes offer more flexibility.
Generalist Musicians are students who 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, or 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 parts of the application and audition process will result in purely musical judgments (Specialist or Special Provision) does not imply an entitlement to any automatic bursary funding. Please see our music scholarships page for more information.
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
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.
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:
And four dance schools:
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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.
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:
You will also be asked to undertake the following:
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
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.
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.
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.