Variations is a week of music making for amateur chamber music players.

It takes place in the award-winning Macphail Centre, Mill Street, Ullapool, at the head of Loch Broom in the Scottish Highlands.

Under the expert guidance of a team of professional tutors you will play chamber music with your group during the mornings from Sunday to Friday.   Each group has several timetabled tutor sessions during the week with the emphasis on ‘organised informality’ so you may consult the tutors on any technical or musical issues you may have.

I mainly enjoyed being thrown together with some new colleagues…however, close behind was the pleasure of being coached and learning how to be a better chamber music player.

The afternoon programme features optional masterclasses, clinics, larger group sessions, mixing strings and wind and the opportunity to play as one of the Edinburgh Quartet in a feature unique to Variations which we call ‘The Apprentice’.

In these ‘Apprentice’ sessions, participants can sign up to play a short movement alongside the professional tutors as a member of a professional string quartet – or as part of a mixed chamber group in the case of wind players and pianists (an experience which has been compared to stepping into a Ferrari after a lifetime driving a Morris Minor!). Past examples of chosen works include movements from String Quartets by Haydn, Beethoven, Dvorak and Mendelssohn, Mozart Clarinet Quintet and Flute Quartet, Gordon Jacob Suite for Bassoon and String Quartet and the Shostakovich Piano Quintet.

The week’s programme also includes two public evening concerts by the Edinburgh Quartet and wind tutor, one on the opening Saturday, followed by a welcome reception, and the other mid-week. A closing supper is organised on the Friday night, following the participants’ concert.

Each day starts at 10am and runs through to 5pm but the Macphail Centre opens at 9am and closes at 6pm for those wishing for extra playing or personal practice.

By enjoying such an intensive period of playing, we hope that you will enhance your skills and learn new repertoire, as well as enjoying the company and the surroundings.

Please look at our schedule for the week.

I gained a lot from the Quartet’s advice… I also liked the relaxed ‘feel’ to the course.  It really put me at my ease.

Can I come as an individual, or do I have to be in an existing group? And how good do I have to be?

You can come either as an existing group or as an individual although most participants come to Variations in pre-formed groups, many of which have been together for several years.

However, we do welcome individual players who we aim to put into chamber groups with others who play at a similar level.

This process can take some time and so players who apply as individuals are encouraged to apply early in the year. Sometimes it proves impossible to create chamber groups from those individuals who apply late and, when this happens, we recommend that they apply again the following year.

…the right balance of seriousness, humour and encouragement

Will I have time to explore the area?

Ullapool is set in magnificent scenery so if you’d like a break from music making there are glorious beaches, beautiful gardens, historic lighthouses, world-renowned geology and more – a wealth to explore. Outdoor activities include hillwalking, climbing, boat trips to the Summer Isles and for rainy days, Ullapool has an indoor swimming pool.

In the evenings the town has bars and restaurants to suit a range of budgets but for more information please see www.ullapool.com.

We were spoiled, as things turned out.

How much does it cost? And what does the fee include?

The cost of the week will be £440 for bookings received by 31st March 2020 and £490 for bookings received thereafter.

Booking for Variations 2020 is now open and the closing date is Friday 1st May 2020.

The cost includes buffet lunch, teas coffees, home baking and other refreshments during the day, admission to concerts and all the musical activities taking place during the week. More information can be found on the ‘Book Your Place‘ page.

We hope to offer substantial discounts for students and others who are unable to pay the full fee.  Please contact Fiona Ross, Variations Manager at .

Please be aware that the cost of travel and accommodation is not included.