The Connecticut Master Chorale with its trophy after
winning Gospelfest 2001 at the Palace Theater in Stamford.
From left are Stella Johns, Nick Johns, Tina Johns Heidrich,
Ardis Gilbert, Ginnie Carey, the Rev. Fred Curtis, Ulla
McGee, Mary Braunsdorf and Debbie Benham.
The Connecticut Master Chorale doesn’t consider itself a strictly gospel group. But
last month the Danbury-based group performed in its first gospel competition. To the
surprise of everyone, including the members, it won.
"We’ve performed gospel and spiritual venues in the Danbury area, but this was the
first time we were involved in a Gospelfest,” said group founder and director Tina Johns
Heidrich. "We went down like we were going to enjoy the experience and have fun, but we
did our best and the crowd loved it.”
Gospelfest 2001 was held at the Palace Theater in Stamford and included groups from the
tri-state area. The event will be aired on ABC July 14 at 7 p.m.
The chorale was one of 12 groups chosen to compete from among 2,179 applicants.
As the Connecticut Master Chorale took its place in front of the crowd there was
silence throughout the theater. As the singing began, the crowd reacted. By the final note
those in the audience were standing, shouting and swinging their children through the air.
"We started singing and (the crowd) started going crazy,” said Heidrich. "At one point
they were so loud we couldn’t hear the group.”
The piece that won the crowd was "The Word Was God.” The song is a spiritual work with
lyrics taken from the Bible. The group sang the song in eight-part harmony and a cappella.
Curtis Farrow, the producer and director of Gospelfest 2001, was impressed not only
with the talent of the chorale, but also with its style.
"They came on so professional. They opened their books at the same time and no one knew
what to expect,” said Farrow. "They opened their mouths and the audience was non-stop
cheering for them. It was wonderful.”
Chorale members consider themselves eclectic singers with repertoires spanning musical
genres. In the past two months they have performed concerts with works by Dvorak and
"We hardly had any time to rehearse this because we had just done Handel,” said Ginnie
Carey, a singer in the group. "We were amazed to find such a positive response from the
The Connecticut Master Chorale won first place in the Adult Choir category. The
Gospelfest is held annually; the first half of the event included performances by Melba
Moore, Tremaine Hawkins and Cissy Houston, Whitney Houston’s mother.