Quite a bit of my time at New Music Wells was spent with students of Wells Cathedral School. Typically of Wells, I’ve read that this is one of the oldest extant schools in the world. The original part of it is the choir school (now supplying girl choristers as well as boys to the Cathedral next door) and this now forms part of a specialist music school, one of five in the UK. Wrapped around this is a larger co-ed day/boarding school, bringing the total number of pupils up to 700.
It’s an unusual model, and surely a good one for the high-pressure world of music education. I wondered if the presence of a cohort of super-talented musicians in the school would make all the other pupils more, or less likely to take part in musical activities. Certainly the standards of the specialist performers were formidable. I’d particularly like to mention violinist Marianne Sutton who played my very tricky piece Music for 247 Strings with great poise (the last person I heard playing it was Midori).
I also officiated at a workshop of student compositions played by Wells pupils. As ever, it seemed quite wonderful that under-18 composers should have the experience of hearing their work at all, let alone that the compositions (ranging from a Metamorphosen-sized string piece to a sharp-eared oboe solo) and performances were of such a high standard. Another wonder was the space we were in; Cedars Hall, a beautiful newly-opened performance space with welcome large windows looking out on to green space. I left Wells in admiration that such a tiny town (ok, officially it’s a ‘City’) should have so much going for it musically.