Chetham's offers a year-round programme of concerts within the School grounds, in venues within Manchester including Manchester Cathedral, the Royal Northern College of Music, Band on the Wall, Bridgewater Hall and further afield. Regular recitals take place in churches and community spaces across Greater Manchester, and occasionally in London, at major festivals and internationally. Its senior ensembles include Chetham's Symphony Orchestra and Big Band, alongside many individual students, have won awards for their music, and many alumni have progressed to highly successful careers as professional musicians or in other sectors.
The music school was established in 1969 from Chetham's Hospital School, founded as a charity school by Humphrey Chetham in 1653. After becoming a boys' grammar school in 1952, the school turned to music as its speciality, at the same time becoming an independent school and accepting its first female students. There are approximately 300 students on roll, including a large sixth form making up around half of the school. Approximately two thirds of students board on site, with others travelling in as day students from around Greater Manchester. The oldest parts of the school date to the 1420s, when the building was constructed as a residence for priests of the church which is now Manchester Cathedral. These parts are listed buildings housing Chetham's Library, the oldest free public reference library in the English speaking world.
Academic and music teaching moved into a new, purpose-designed building in 2012; this replaced the Victorian Palatine building and allowed easier access for concert visitors. A 482-seat concert hall, The Stoller Hall, was opened within the new school building in April 2017 as a home for both school and professional music and other genres of performance.
The school is built on the site of Manchester Castle, a fortified manor house owned by the Grelleys after the Norman Conquest, at the confluence of the River Irwell and the River Irk. Medieval Manchester grew around the manor house and the parish church, which eventually became Manchester Cathedral.
In the early 14th century, the de la Warre family acquired the land through marriage. Thomas de la Warre refounded the church as a collegiate church in 1421. De la Warre gave the site of his manor house for the construction of a college, where eight priests, four clerks and six lay choristers lived in the care of a warden. It is likely that building began between 1424 and 1429, and the main hall and cloister rooms finished by 1458. It remains the most complete building of its kind in the country, and at the time of its construction, was the second largest building in Manchester, surpassed only by the church.