Tutti Ensemble Incorporated, SA

Tutti Ensemble Incorporated with Pat Rix (Founder and Artistic Director)

Music in Communities Awards case study

Teacher, playwright, composer and social entrepreneur Pat Rix began Tutti in 1997. She is widely respected as a national leader in social inclusion and internationally recognised for bringing community and professional artists with and without a disability together for high quality performance. In 2007 she received the Australian of the Year - South Australian Local Hero Award and a High Commendation from the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission for her work in challenging stereotypes and public perceptions about disability.

Pat Rix started Tutti as a small singing group of nine people with intellectual disability at Minda Inc. Brighton SA. Still based on the Minda Campus, Tutti now involves over 130 children and adults of all ages in music-making each week in Adelaide and another 90 plus in regional SA who are involved through Tutti's outreach program "The Big Country Choir".

Tutti offers music-making opportunities to both disabled and non-disabled children and adults, enabling them to take part in a range of concerts and music-theatre events. It also offers talented school leavers and emerging singers, musicians and visual artists with a disability a full-time post-school program with ongoing opportunities to create and perform new vocal, music-theatre as well as visual artwork and film with high calibre professional artists.

Tutti's ethos is that participation in and enjoyment of singing should be accessible to everyone. The three regional choirs are regularly mentored and offered opportunities to become involved in combined music-theatre productions and choral events. Many people marginalised by disability and distance have performed with pride in their local towns and also in major cities as a direct result of Tutti's work. It has become internationally recognized as a model of artistic excellence and social inclusion and there are now sister choirs in Vancouver and Minneapolis.

How did Tutti start?

"Tutti came about after a friend asked me to take a singing group at Minda. After about three months I realised that I was really enjoying it, and enjoyed seeing the positive changes in the choir members. The music was helping with a whole range of their behaviours and their attention spans were increasing. After six months people could concentrate and sing for up to 45 minutes without a break, which simply wouldn't have been achievable at the beginning".

What has been the key to Tutti's success?

"There are many reasons why Tutti has grown and impacted so positively on people's lives.

Firstly, the group has always been enormously eager to learn. We never were a group that was happy to sing familiar songs and play guitar. We did a little of that but the group always wanted to do more and so we did lots of improvisation which led to us writing our own songs. We constantly challenged ourselves and just kept on improving. As we got better, and as the behaviour of the group settled and everyone learned the protocols of listening, respecting, and working together, people without disabilities in the community wanted to join in. So we incorporated very keen, high quality singers which increased our complexity and appeal.

Secondly, I know from being a teacher that people will stay engaged and focused if they're interested. To keep this interest the group needs to have ownership over the process and the outcomes. The choir knows that everything we do, from pitch exercises to rhythm games, serve a purpose. Many of our early experiments found their way into the original material we wrote. When we performed, it was often the songs informed by the experience of disability or being together which had the most profound impact on audiences. I'm sure this contributed to our early reputation for originality and integrity.

Thirdly, we always have fun. People in the choir join because they want more happiness in their lives. So we create fresh, lively, happy songs that our choir wants to sing and that people want to hear. We have fun playing with voices, listening to different textures and sounds. In the early days, I would tape some of our songs. We would then sit down in a tight circle and I'd play those songs back to the group. The wonder and excitement on their faces when they heard their own work was a joy.

Lastly, the choir's involvement in the creation and performance of major new music-theatre works has bridged the gap between the community and mainstream arts worlds. This has been crucial to maintaining the high level of interest and commitment of so many".

Was there a turning point or milestone in Tutti's development?

"Yes. There have been two equally important milestones in the past eleven years. The first involves a choir member with an acquired brain injury who was a highly creative soul - she had been a violinist before her accident - who thought our unique sound and story were fertile soil for an Opera, and that we should create one.

When she passed away suddenly it was a devastating loss for our group, particularly as her mother was also in the choir. We decided then, in the aftermath of our loss, that we should act on her idea. So we created My Life, My Love, an opera based on a local story we found from an elderly resident in a nursing home in Adelaide. It was a sellout hit at the Adelaide Festival in 2002 - over 7,000 people saw eight performances - won the critics 'Light of the Festival' Award and was nominated for a Helpmann Award.

That really marked the start of the creation of new musical theatre works which have been so important for us.

The second milestone was the establishment of Tutti Arts as a day program in partnership with Minda Inc for talented school leavers with a disability. It was in response to young people who loved being in the choir and wanted to work in the arts. We began with seven passionate young performers in October 2004, then expanded to offer Visual Arts in October 2005 and Digitech - a digital music, animation and film-making option in 2006. We now have twenty eight young adults in the program aged eighteen to thirty years and are set to expand again.

This program is so successful that several of these young artists have begun to perform and exhibit nationally and one young woman will be doing her second show in the US in 2009".

How does Tutti manage its volunteer program?

Thanks to the establishment of Tutti Arts we have both paid and volunteer staff; prior to that we were largely a volunteer organisation.

Volunteer Staff

There are many options for people who wish to volunteer and we currently have many people who have been with us for more than ten years.

The first kind of volunteering is joining the Tutti Choir. We have around forty non-disabled male and female community singers who play an informal support role in the choir although there are numerous examples of experienced disabled singers helping community singers with their parts. Choir volunteers also help out with pickups and transport at times.

We also have a core group of five terrific women who call themselves the 'Engine Room'. They work with our choir coordinator to ensure that information is communicated, choir shirts are in good condition, and ensure the smooth running of the choir.

The second kind of volunteering is becoming involved in the Tutti Arts program. We have a long term volunteer, a literacy coordinator who has ensured all young artists entering the program learn to read and write. We had several who could not read at all when they came and are now fluent. We also have a range of highly skilled artists among our community members who volunteer as guest tutors and artists for shorter periods of time, and three office volunteers who support the general administration of the organization.

The third kind of volunteering is fundraising, and this is managed by a group of seven people who organise three fundraising events each year for Tutti.

The fourth kind of volunteering is being on the Tutti Board. While the Board is still a volunteer board, the composition has changed in the past five years from people in the choir to a broader range of highly skilled people who work hard to ensure good governance and to lift Tutti's profile in SA.

We currently have three full-time staff - myself, a general manager and an office administrator. We also have a part-time project manager who is also the choir coordinator and a part-time publicity marketing person.

Guest Tutti Choir conductors and our rehearsal pianist are also paid at professional rates.

Tutti Arts staff includes two part-time positions in the form of Performing and Visual Arts Coordinators and four part-time tutors/support staff. We also have several specialist part-time tutors".

How are you funded? What do you think was the crucial factor for you securing that funding?

"Our ongoing funding comes mainly from state and federal arts funding bodies and Disability SA, with occasional one- off funding from various trusts and foundations.

Until 2004 Tutti was project funded by Arts SA and the Australia Council for the Arts. With the establishment of the Tutti Arts program we accessed disability Day Option funding which came with each of the artists in the program.

At the end of 2007 Tutti became the only South Australian arts organisation to become an Australia Council Key Producer through the new Community Partnerships initiative. This has given us the security of six year funding until 2013.

The key factors in our success have been the high artistic quality of our work in both mainstream and disability culture, and our successful partnership with Minda Inc, which has enabled us to diversify our income and work towards sustainability as a multi-level organisation".

What do you think is the most important element in getting people to participate?

"There are quite a few so take your pick!

You need continuous strong and visionary leadership which has now expanded to include others in leadership positions.

We also believe in acceptance of difference rather than mere tolerance of difference, which makes people want to participate. This has led to a level of education of both people with a disability and non-disabled community members which has allowed genuine social inclusion to occur.

People see the positive spin-offs of being involved for their families, the wider community and also for the education of the wider public. Tutti in Italian means 'all' - literally 'everyone' - and when you see it on a musical score it means everybody. We have succeeded in creating an environment where people want to participate because it brings them into contact with passionate and creative people who care about others. This is true for both disabled and non-disabled singers in the choir.

Disabled artists gain skill and competencies which enable creative self expression at a very high level. This then means they are increasingly seen as emerging leaders in disability arts and culture.

One young man told me that the reason he loved being in the Tutti Choir was because it was the only time and place where he felt treated like a person, not a disability.

Art is also a great connector of people and a wonderful preserver of souls. And is the soul that must be preserved in people if we want to create credible communities capable of nurturing tomorrow's leaders.

I believe people come to Tutti and stay with us because of the soul this organisation has, whether we are performing at a local fete, on the main-stage with a symphony orchestra, as a chorus in one of our own large scale music theatre or operatic works, or when a young Tutti artists receives individual acclaim for a performance or work of art.

People in Tutti believe it is vital we keep the soul of community alive "“ because from that comes the expression of self worth, of identity, of pride and knowledge of who we are, where we come from and what we have to look forward to.

Tutti Arts has added a new level of happiness and soul to the organization because young disabled adults are succeeding in establishing their reputations as serious artists and in many cases being paid for their work. The fact that our soloists and small ensembles are in such demand is testament.

There are close to 250 people involved in Tutti now and everyone has a sense of real pride in what we are accomplishing together.