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White House gig the ‘thrill of a lifetime’

By Heather Barr

Members of the Connecticut Master Chorale, with accompanist Joseph Jacovino, surround the 1938 Steinway grand piano at the White House on Saturday. Former President Harry S. Truman played this same piano for President John F. Kennedy in 1961.

Members of the Connecticut Master Chorale, with accompanist Joseph Jacovino, surround the 1938 Steinway grand piano at the White House on Saturday. Former President Harry S. Truman played this same piano for President John F. Kennedy in 1961.

For a brief moment, Charlie Smith, 58, of Bethel, looked through a window in the White House on Saturday and saw President and Mrs. Bush boarding Marine One, the presidential helicopter.

"It was a breathtaking, awesome experience,” said Smith, a charter member of the Danbury-based Connecticut Master Chorale who performed at the White House on Saturday. "It was a thrill of a lifetime.”

But the First Couple wasn’t the only member of the family seen.

Early Saturday, while touring the park near the White House, they saw the family’s black dog Barney, playing Frisbee with someone on the front lawn.

Twenty-five of the chorale’s 55 singers were invited to the White House to perform Saturday at noon and 4 p.m. in the book signers’ room and the Grand Foyer of White House.

Thousands of guests including workers for Air Force One, the president’s Boeing 747-200 plane, the Marine Corps, and the Secret Service and their families attended the White House concert.

Chorale Director Tina Johns Heidrich, 48, of Brookfield said the group sang "All Creatures of Our God and King” without knowing the Christmas theme at the White House was ‘all creatures great and small.’

The group also sang Hanukkah and Cuban numbers, spirituals like "Amen!,” which Heidrich arranged, a medley of Christmas carols and other selections.

Heidrich said the group’s accompanist, Joseph Jacovino of Middlebury, played the Steinway piano in the Grand Foyer.

Heidrich, said it was a tremendous honor for the chorale to sing at the White House.

"You looked at the singers and their eyes lit up,” she said, adding it was exciting knowing the president and VIPs were nearby.

"It is a nice notch in our belt,” Heidrich said of the experience.

The group has performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. as well as winning first place in the adult choir category of the McDonald’s Annual Gospelfest competition in May. On Jan. 20, the group will return to perform at Carnegie Hall.

Debbie Warren-Brennan, 42, of Danbury, a charter member of the chorale, said the White House gig was overwhelming.

"We expected everyone to just walk through,” she said. "So many people stopped and listened and clapped. It was very well received.”

In addition to performing, the group toured the East Wing of the White House and a nearby park.

"It was grander than you could even imagine,” Warren-Brennan said of the inside of the White House. In one room, large Christmas trees were decorated with partidges and other bird ornaments and large glass balls.

Warren-Brennan said the White House decorations were impeccable. "The scale of everything was grand. It was a great experience to have to go through the White House and see the portraits of all the presidents and their wives.”

"I had seen it (the White House Christmas decorations) on TV, but it doesn’t hold any justice to the actual beauty of all the hand-crafted ornaments,” said Smith of the wondrous decor in the White House. "The decorations were unbelievable.”

Kristen Schretzenmayer, 29, of New Milford said the park near the White House was also a site to see. A large Christmas tree was in the center with Christmas trees for each state surrounding it.

"Crocheted decorations were in glass balls,” she said of Connecticut’s tree.

"It was neat to walk around and see the lovely tree decorations,” said Schretzenmayer, who is in her first season with the chorale.

The group left Washington D.C. for home Saturday afternoon.

Anyone who would like more information about the Danbury-based Connecticut Master Chorale can log onto the Internet at or call Tina Heidrich at (203) 775-2602.

Contact Heather Barr


or at (203) 731-3331.

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