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
NEWS-TIMES ARTS CRITIC
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
"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
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
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 are other reasons for having a smaller group," Heidrich acknowledged, "fewer
rehearsals needed, greater flexibility in programming, the ability to perform in smaller
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
"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
"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
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.