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November 17, 1999

Home | Headlines | Classified | Subscriptions | Online Forum | Staff

Only 'meaty music' for her new chorale

The News-Times/Carol Kaliff

Tina Johns Heidrich's new Connecticut Master Chorale debuts Sunday in Danbury.

By Frank Merkling


Like many a businessman these days, Tina Johns Heidrich is downsizing and upgrading. But profit is not her motive. The only gains are artistic.

Heidrich is founder and director of the Connecticut Master Chorale, which will make its debut Sunday afternoon in Danbury's St. Peter Church.

The group is made up of 54 auditioned singers. In her previous position as director of the Connecticut Choral Society, Heidrich oversaw growth from 80 to 120 singers in seven years.

"It's a matter of quality, not quantity," she said as she sat down to lunch at Darwoods, the modest, well-appointed, chef-run restaurant across from Bank Street Theater in New Milford.

Her lunch consisted of iced tea and a chicken club sandwich she was unable to finish. "During the day," she explained with a smile, "I only eat enough to sustain life. I'm a night person."

What's impressive about the new chorale is that four out of five members come from the Connecticut Choral Society suggesting that, without auditions, quality was no problem there.

"There are other reasons for having a smaller group," Heidrich acknowledged, "fewer rehearsals needed, greater flexibility in programming, the ability to perform in smaller venues."

And perhaps having a smaller board of directors, though she would admit to no friction with the CCS board. She did admit she's efficient, impatient and voluble.

"I try to promote joy and fellowship in singing," she said. "Singing together is hard work, but it's got to be fun. People are there after a long day of work, and they're not getting paid.

"On the rare occasions when something goes wrong, they know what I'm thinking. I'm an open book I mouth the words they're singing, and how I look is how they'll sound."

Heidrich has perfect pitch and rat-a-tat-tat delivery.

Since 1990 she has served Bethel's First Congregational Church as organist and director of music. For 15 years before that she played organ at Assumption Greek Orthodox Church in Danbury, where her father was choir director.

It pleases her that both her parents sing in the Bethel choir and the new chorale.

"My father is a mechanical engineer," she said. "But I grew up with the piano, took violin till in my teens, and played tuba while I was student-teaching at Bethel High School.

"I played violin with the Danbury Little Symphony when John Burnett was conductor and sang alto in what was then the Danbury Concert Chorus."

Born Christina Iwannou in 1954, she still adheres to the Greek Orthodox faith but claims she doesn't care for Greek dishes like "things wrapped in grape leaves," which her grandmother used to make.

Tina attended Danbury High School, where her father taught calculus, and Western Connecticut State University, taking her B.A. in 1976 and a master's three years later.

"Richard Brooks (conductor of what is now the Danbury Community Orchestra) was one of my classmates," she recalled. "My mentor was Jim Humphreville (music director of the Danbury Symphony Orchestra), who encouraged me to pursue a career in conducting and let me lead some choral programs at the high school.

"I used to teach chorus at Joel Barlow High in Redding, and some of those students are in the new chorale along with college students and people from Torrington and New Haven.

"My hobby is my profession," Heidrich summed up. "I love the sound of this group, the enthusiasm."

Besides preparing the music and doing the conducting, she handled the incorporating and secured the chorale's tax exemption. She writes the program notes for each concert.

She does get help with fund-raising and advertising, thanks to a treasurer and an operations manager. "People come forward out of the blue," she said.

One person she can count on for support and suggestions is her husband of 16 years, Don Heidrich, a systems engineer at Cisco Systems, which supplies equipment for the Internet.

"He takes care of the growing," she said lightly of the Heidrichs' home in Brookfield, "and I take care of the mowing. We both cook."

The late Beatrice Brown invited the CCS to perform with the Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra when she was conductor, and Brown's successor, Sidney Rothstein, has repeated the invitation twice.

Already the Connecticut Master Chorale has been invited to sing at West Point in the U.S. Military Academy's Christmas program.

Meanwhile, for the debut Sunday at St. Peter's, the singers will perform the Magnificat by the esteemed British choral composer/conductor John Rutter, with whom Heidrich has studied, followed by holiday selections.

She too has composed.

"I've done an enormous amount of arranging," she said, "and I've started writing a symphony. Last December the CCS did my 'Christmas Awakening!' mine from scratch, both words and music at St. Rose of Lima Church in Newtown."

In March the chorale will perform works by Bruckner and Dave Brubeck there.

The Rutter work this Sunday is accompanied by an instrumental ensemble of 16, plus Joseph Jacovino Jr., the chorale's accompanist, on organ.

What does Heidrich mean by more flexibility in programming?

"More oratorio, perhaps Handel's 'Samson' and Mendelssohn's 'St. Paul.' Maybe opera I love Puccini, and we'll have a Puccini program in May.

"But it's got to be meaty music," she emphasized, laughing. "I'm not a Broadway baby!"

The Connecticut Master Chorale makes its debut Sunday at 3 p.m. in St. Peter Church, Danbury. Tina Johns Heidrich leads a program of John Rutter's Magnificat plus holiday selections, accompanied by organist Joseph Jacovino Jr. and a 16-piece instrumental ensemble. Admission: $10 donation. Call 743-0473 with questions.

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