‘A unifying force’: ChamberFest receives $10,000 donation, looking ahead to summer festival


In October, local resident Annie Hawk traveled to Chicago for a concert at the symphony.

The ticket she had was given to her for free, but had a value of $300.

While her seat was on the first floor, she said she was not nearly as close to the performers as she could have been and they did not stop to interact with the audience and talk to them about the pieces performed — not like at ChamberFest Brown County.

ChamberFest Brown County features duos, trios, string quartets and more performing classical pieces at various locations in Nashville.

Audience members experience classical music performed in an intimate setting, known as chamber music. The genre consists of a small ensemble of musicians — more than two, less than 10 — each performing their own part on traditional instruments that have evolved over the last couple centuries.

The event brings musicians of international repute to venues across downtown Nashville for a week of music, workshops and educational experiences in local schools.

ChamberFest returns in August for its third year.

Seven days of music will begin Sunday, Aug. 13 and conclude Saturday, Aug. 19.

On Thursday, Aug. 17 there will be a flamenco group from Chicago — with two dancers, a guitarist, singer and drummer — performing at Brown County Playhouse.

While tickets for that event are $25, entry the rest of the concerts throughout the week is free, thanks to fundraising and donations of individuals, groups and organizations.

One organization who donated to the artistic cause and 2023 festival is the Smithville Charitable Foundation, which donated a $10,000 grant to ChamberFest in November.

The grant is one of many made annually by the foundation to enrich the lives of communities served by Smithville Communications.

“We are grateful to the Smithville Charitable Foundation for its most generous support, and for recognizing the power of music to enrich the lives of people of all ages across our communities,” Hawk, ChamberFest Brown County president, said in a press release.

Hawk applied for the grant after hearing from a family member of the Smithville founders at a Bloomington Rotary Club meeting.

During the meeting, people stood up and gave testimonials about what Smithville had done for the arts. She was inspired to apply on behalf of ChamberFest.

The grant is unrestricted, so ChamberFest will add it into its budget, which is about $50,000 for the event.

Hawk said more than $30,000 pays for the performers.

Since its beginning, the event has grown in a number of ways.

It started as a six-day event in 2021. In 2022, a seventh day of music was added.

The leadership of the event has also grown, the board of directors for ChamberFest Brown County more than doubling in two years.

It started with four members, Hawk said, and they’re about to vote in their ninth.

“The grant is amazing and unexpected, but also all of the other community support we’ve had is much appreciated,” Hawk said last week.

Experience the value

ChamberFest, with a mission to create a space “where music and nature meet,” seeks to add to Nashville’s musical offerings, and make chamber music accessible in local venues.

While Nashville is just a half hour from Bloomington and Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music programs, the distance is “more than geographical,” according to the release.

“Given a lack of ready access, rural Brown County communities until now have not had an opportunity to challenge the common misperception of classical music as a remote or alien art form,” the release said.

ChamberFest aims to address the gaps with its seven-day festival, in a mission to inspire audiences in rural Indiana through classical music performance and education of the highest caliber.

ChamberFest seeks to provide the opportunity for locals and visitors to attend world-class concerts, informative lectures, and fascinating multimedia presentations through a collaboration with educational and civic organizations in Brown County, the release said.

“We believe classical music can transform the lives of its listeners, whether they’re new to the form, or to an individual piece,” Hawk said.

Annie Hawk, ChamberFest Brown County president, watches a concert during the festival last summer at Nashville United Methodist Church. Submitted photos | Michele Wedel Photography

“Music is a language that can provide inspiration and hope, cutting across boundaries of age, politics, language, and socioeconomic status. This is music for everyone.”

Setting plays a role in forging this human connection. ChamberFest’s intimate performance spaces in local churches put performers and audience in close proximity.

Audiences are able to see performers up close, expressing the emotions written into the music.

Performers introduce each piece, placing it in the context of the composer’s life and work, including the life events and emotions that inspired the piece — love, tragedy, nostalgia, passion, or joy — enabling listeners to relate to composers as fellow beings, expressing common emotions in their music.

ChamberFest Artistic Director Andreas Ioannides views classical music as meeting a fundamental human need for inspiration and healing.

Ioannides is originally from the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, but came to study in the United States when he was 18. He graduated from Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music with a piano performance doctorate in 2019 and served as a lecturer of piano at Indiana State University in Terre Haute.

He is now assistant lecturer of piano at the Cork School of Music at Munster Technological University in Cork, Ireland.

“Great art has the power to uplift the human soul,” he said in the release.

“It represents an ideal, a shining light that can guide and inspire us, and can act as a unifying force that brings people together at a time of profound polarization.”

According to the release, the joy of the shared experience was “palpable” among concertgoers and performers, who were “delighted by the charm and hospitality” of Nashville.

With Nashville already being a “music destination,” the release says, with the Bill Monroe Music Campground festivals, the former Little Nashville Opry and now the Brown County Music Center, ChamberFest Brown County adds classical music to the mix.

“People don’t realize there’s no other small town in Indiana, maybe the Midwest that does anything like this,” Hawk said.

“If Nashville, Tenn., is the country music destination, this festival can make Nashville, Ind., a chamber music destination.”

While there aren’t any contracts with artists for the 2023 festival just yet, Hawk said they have commitments from all performers so far.

She added the principal cellist of the Chicago Symphony — one of the five best symphonies in the world — will play in Nashville during the 2023 ChamberFest.

“This is very unusual. It’s hard to get that across,” she said of the caliber of music and performers.

“People don’t see the value until they come to a concert.”

The Lincoln String Quartet performs with Andreas Ioannides at the Nashville United Methodist Church on Aug. 18 during ChamberFest Brown County. This was the second time the classical music festival featuring duos, trios, string quartets and more returned to Brown County. Along with being a pianist Ioannides is also the festival’s artistic director. Submitted photos | Michele Wedel Photography

Upcoming concerts

There will be an early ChamberFest concert this month, on Saturday, Jan. 21 at Nashville United Methodist Church.

In April, Andreas Ioannides will perform at Helen Haddad Hall in Columbus with a clarinetist from the Columbus Symphony.

Donations for ChamberFest Brown County will be accepted at both events.

More about ChamberFest

ChamberFest is produced through its Indiana-based non-profit organization RiverSong Music, Inc. Founded in March 2017 as a 501(c)3 organization, RiverSong is dedicated to providing support, education and community involvement through classical music. The devotion of its board of directors makes ChamberFest Brown County possible. Visit the ChamberFest website at chamberfestbrowncounty.com for more information.

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