IN FOCUS: Classical music's new home at Hestercombe

This is The West Country: TOMAS Yardley outside the Centre for Young Musicians at Hestercombe. TOMAS Yardley outside the Centre for Young Musicians at Hestercombe.

ACROSS nine classrooms in the irregular 18th Century beauty of Hestercombe House lurks a classical music school for Somerset’s musical prodigies (or those with potential).

With teaching having officially begun on March 1, the Hestercombe Centre for Young Musicians is evolving rapidly.

Its classical music offer is a mix of ensemble playing with one-on-one-tuition, plus academic studies in music history and theory, all done on the stately house’s second floor.

Currently, 30 children are on the books, the majority pooled from Taunton’s schools.

Tomas Yardley, who runs the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offshoot, having been a key player in the London school on which it is based, is passionate about drawing musical promise from Somerset’s state sector students.

“The biggest demographic is the state sector,” he says, “and we have some private sector pupils as well.

“Our farthest-reaching students are probably from Minehead and Frome, even up to Wells.”

As well as working arm-in-arm with director Stephen Dagg to develop a prestigious home for musical education, Tomas, a French horn player by trade, is also studying for his PhD in composition.

Key to both he and Stephen’s motivation is giving “underprivileged” young people access to the facility.

Tomas says: “The most important thing to us to provide opportunities for less than privileged kids, but the word ‘underprivileged’ means many different things. It’s not always about how much money a family has.

“It’s about how you’re going to transport your child; what’s offered to that child by way of musical education in school.

“We’re pleased with the way the HCYM is managing to deliver to these children.”

A bursary scheme is in place for youngsters from families on lower incomes – around one-third of those enrolled are currently supported.

Establishing the Centre for Young Musicians in Somerset is also a very real step to re-jigging the London-centrism of musical education.

Tomas says: “Last year I was working in London – an incredible model where access to excellence and opportunity is concerned.

“Bringing that into Somerset gives rural students access to it.

“Our curriculum is sensitive about reflecting the environment. We have to be careful with timetabling, for example, because it’s a bit more family-orientated down here.”

As for the immediate future, refurbishments to the house are ongoing, the music school is paving the way for its expansion out across a few more music rooms and an end-of-year concert is set for July 5.

Looking to 2014-15, a concert series is on the cards with plans to forge links with Taunton’s music groups.

Then there’s that small logistical challenge of getting a baby grand piano or two up that finely turned staircase...

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