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Festival for First Timers

Festival for First Timers

AFCM for First Timers

What is Chamber Music anyway?

Chamber music had its origins hundreds of years ago, back in a time when music was played by families in their homes, sometimes around a piano, or by a string group made up of family members. Chamber music groups include: string quartets, piano trios (piano, violin and cello), solo instruments (such as violin, flute, cello, voice) plus piano or even chamber orchestras with 15 or so players.

Chamber music is like listening to, and being part of, a really interesting conversation with friends. Listening to the musicians and being part of such an intimate experience can be intensely satisfying and that's one reason chamber music has acquired such a devoted following. 

So what's so special about the Australian Festival of Chamber Music?

The Festival brings together outstanding musicians from around the world and around Australia, musicians who won't necessarily be performing elsewhere in Australia. They play beautiful music in comparatively small venues, in a tropical setting of blue skies and perfect temperatures. This combination of quality musicians and music in a laid back tropical atmosphere creates an intimate experience where you don't just admire their skill from afar, but bump into them at events and around town.

How did the Australian Festival of Chamber Music get started?

In 1990, former Vice Chancellor of James Cook University, Professor Ray Golding, set about establishing an annual festival of chamber music in Townsville. The Australian Festival of Chamber Music - North Queensland Limited was formed to run an annual program of chamber music concerts and master classes.

Held annually in August, the Festival was designed to enhance Townsville's cultural environment by presenting internationally acclaimed classical musicians to audiences from Townsville, around Australia and overseas. Celebrating its 30th Anniversary this year, the Festival is now internationally recognised for the quality of its programming and performance as well as for its unique tropical winter setting.

What do I do at a concert? - concert etiquette

A common concern of listeners at classical concerts, and one of the chief obstacles to enjoying the music, is the dreaded Fear of Clapping in the Wrong Place! It's no wonder the audience is afraid: Classical musicians don't usually make clear what they expect of the audience.

In other kinds of music, the audience claps whenever there’s an ending - if the music stops, people applaud. But in classical music, one piece may have several parts or ‘movements’. It can be any number from 1 to 23 but a general average is 3 or 4 movements each with its own ending. It’s like a journey through a series of feelings and thoughts with each movement having its own mood and pace, you, the musicians and the audience share the experience and clapping between movements can break the spell. 

This can be tough. Sometimes you can't tell if the piece is over. Sometimes you get so carried away by the music that you really want to clap. Sometimes you’re so enthusiastic after a section ends that you've just got to clap for the musicians.

So how do you tell when a piece of music is really over? There are notes in the program that will tell you how many movements there are in each piece and you'll start to learn whether they are fast or slow and how to listen for the breaks in between. When in doubt, simply wait until lots of other people are clapping!


The Internet is a great source of chamber music information and music excerpts. Download some excerpts or buy or borrow a CD from the local library, they will have CDs and DVDs of loads of music and it’s free!

Being familiar with the music is going to make a huge difference to your experience. It's just like going to see a band you've never heard before vs. the knowing all the songs as they come up, it feels totally different.

Choosing a concert

What concerts are suitable for chamber music virgins? There are no strict rules but trying the AFCM 5pm Ray Golding Sunset Series of concerts is a great starting point. They are 60 minutes long with no interval and have a range of chamber music styles and ensembles (groups of instruments playing together). Go with a friend and then have a drink at the bar and watch the who's who of the chamber music world arrive for the 7:30pm concert. 

What should I wear?

Wear what you like! No rules here either. Come as you are or glam up - your choice.

What does it mean?

Here are a few definitions from the world of chamber music

  • Duet/Duo - Two people playing together   

  • Trio - Three people playing together  

  • Quartet - Four people playing together   

  • Quintet, Sextet etc... you're on your way!

  • Bravo - "fantastic", "good one", "awesome" - in other words it's the Italian way to express your appreciation to a performer - loads of Aussies use it too.

  • Notturno or Nocturn - Night time. Chopin's Nocturns evoke evening moods.

  • Encore - A piece of music played at the end of a recital responding to the audience's enthusiastic reaction to the performance, shown by continuous applause.

  • Classical - Classical music often means fine music or serious music. More technically the word may refer to a period in the history of music, the later 18th century, the age of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. The classical may be differentiated from the so-called romantic, the relatively experimental and less formally restricted kinds of music that became current in the 19th century.

  • Romantic Music - A period in history during the 18th and early 19th centuries where the focus shifted from the neoclassical style to an emotional, expressive, and imaginative style.

  • Baroque Music - Once used as a term of critical disapproval, the word 'baroque' is now used in music to designate a period of musical history from about 1600 to about 1750. In musicology the term was borrowed from the history of art and architecture. In music the baroque era is typified by the Italian composer Monteverdi, the Middle Baroque by composers such as Henry Purcell in England or Lully in France and the Late Baroque by Johann Sebastian Bach, Handel and Vivaldi.

Other ways to get at some chamber music

  • Subscribe to the Australian Festival of Chamber Music's Newsletter and hear about special offers.

  • Listen to radio 2MBS FM, 3MBS FM, 4MBS FM,  and or ABC Classic FM.

  • Call in to Mary Who Bookshop (Townsville) and ask for some beginner's selections.

Helpful websites for chamber music virgins

  • Operapaedia has loads of definitions - information about types of opera voices is good to know.

  • Wikipedia has a good general page on chamber music with links to loads of other sites.

  • Operaglass 

  • Listen to the top 100 Chamber Music works voted by listeners. The Chamber Music Classic 100 list is a great way to reacquaint with some old favourites as well as make new friends in the world of Chamber Music.