Ian Ritchie writes about inclusive ensembles and accessible instruments: The Setúbal Music Festival model

By David on May 26, 2016

The Inclusive Creativity symposium in Gothenberg at the end April 2016 addressed developments in inclusive ensembles, new technologies and international partnerships. From Ian Ritchie’s viewpoint the innovations within Share Music’s work in Sweden have been timed perfectly to dovetail with precedents established by The Setúbal Music Festival, now in its sixth year.

Photo of Clarence Adoo wearing the Headspace
Photo of Clarence Adoo wearing the Headspace

On 26 May 2016 Clarence Adoo, an inspirational professional musician and former trumpeter who was paralysed from the neck down in a road accident 20 years ago, was the featured artist in two of the main concerts: three inclusive ensembles – one being fully professional and international, another comprised of aspiring young musicians from the region, and the third growing out of collaboration between the local conservatoire and a neighbouring special school – will also play major parts during the four days of this unique Portuguese festival.

The Setúbal Music Festival began six years ago with a very simple mission – to give all local young people, irrespective of their backgrounds, the opportunity to make music together and thereby to flourish. So I started by meeting representatives of institutions and associations – for culture, education, youth and social inclusion – from across the whole community and asked them what they hoped for.  

Based on a different creative theme each year, the Festival has been built on year-round workshops, creative collaborations between different groups or institutions, performances by world-class visiting artists sharing their work and platforms with local people: it has been developed from the ground upwards, like any good building, and not from the top down. The integration of disabled people at the heart of the programme was not a targeted action in itself but the result of a socially inclusive policy that embraces marginalised people, celebrates the margins where the cutting edges of music can be sharpened and the diversity, which gives the arts and society itself their richness.

Two years ago the Festival was able to set up a Youth Ensemble – now the city’s official ‘youth orchestra’ – to offer further opportunities for young people to maintain their musical ambitions and pathways beyond school and close to home within Setúbal. Because it had become so natural for disabled young people to collaborate regularly with their contemporaries in making and performing some of the most powerful and beautiful shows for the Festival each year, we should not have been surprised that 25% of the successful applicants to join the new Ensemble have special needs. 

photo of the Setúbal Youth Ensemble on stage
Ensemble Juvenil de Setúbal. Image © Pedro Pina

The instrumentation of the Ensemble is defined by its membership and not the other way about, which means that all the music has to be composed or arranged specially: within two years we have already commissioned 8 composers, 5 from Portugal and 3 from the UK, to work with the group, writing for a diversity of instruments, including one or two new ones with ‘assistive technology’.  

The 2016 Festival, with the inspirational presence of Clarence Adoo launching his own new instrument, HiNote, and playing a specially commissioned new work with the Setúbal Youth Ensemble, may start to draw more young people with physical disabilities into musical learning and participation. But we need new technologies and instruments to be developed or adapted to enable them to perform on a ‘level playing field’.  

Inclusive Creativity symposia and ongoing collaborations will support this: indeed the recent event in Sweden has already offered new instrumental ideas and models for developing the musical palettes of composers and the technical possibilities for performers. Music and society itself will be refreshed and enriched.

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