By Carla Jean Whitley
Kurt Heinecke’s Cullman upbringing has manifested itself in his profession in some unexpected ways.
Heinecke, music director for Big Idea, the company which produces the Veggie Tales series, was active in band, choir and church musical groups while growing up in Cullman. He was senior class musician at Cullman High School and also in the senior hall of fame before his 1982 graduation. He studied music education at the University of Montevallo, then went on to complete his education at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.
But Heinecke said perhaps the most ironic influence on his career was the two years he spent directing the CHS German band while in high school.
“The first song that I was working on with Veggie Tales was their theme song, which was a polka,” said Heinecke, who worked on the arrangement of that tune and played the tuba for it. “So my experience back in high school was very helpful for what I do now, because we enjoy a lot of fun styles of music and we’ve been known to throw a couple of polkas in there.”
Heinecke will share insight on the company’s history and his musical work at the Cullman City Schools Foundation’s annual fundraiser Saturday. Seth Thompson, president of the foundation, said fine arts contest winners will also be recognized that evening.
Heinecke was working as a director of music at a church in Chicago when Big Idea formed nearly 13 years ago. The company’s creators all attended that church.
“So as they began to formulate their ideas for Veggie Tales, or a new form of computer-animated series telling biblically based stories, they had seen me working in the music of this church for several years and invited me to help out with the music from the very beginning,” Heinecke said.
Though he had an extensive background in music already, composing for video was a new experience for Heinecke. The show’s computer-animated format was also new for the show’s creators. In fact, Heinecke said the format was a bit unusual in itself — the first episode was released before Disney’s “Toy Story,” “so sometimes people don’t realize how groundbreaking our first episodes were,” he said.
“It was a bit of trial and error,” Heinecke said, “but they always had a set of characters and premise that was engaging.”
Funds for schools
This weekend’s visit will be Heinecke’s first in several years. But he said since Big Idea’s move from Chicago to Nashville two years ago, he’s enjoyed being closer to Alabama.
“It’ll be fun to come down and see some old faces and be on the old stomping grounds,” he said.
In November, Thompson, one of Heinecke’s high school choir mates from First Baptist Church contacted him about the fundraiser.
“I had been in choir with him when I was in high school, and I can safely say he taught me all I needed to know about music — which isn’t much,” said Thompson, a local attorney. “I remembered him fondly from that time.”
A reception will be held at 5 p.m. before Heinecke speaks at the 6 p.m. program. The evening is the primary fundraiser for the foundation, which exists to help teachers buy education materials that the school system is unable to provide money for. The foundation distributed $10,000 worth of grants to the city school system’s five schools last year.
“Long term, we would like to be able to give more money to teachers so that we could meet more education needs to help our school system become the best school system around,” Thompson said.
‰ Who: Kurt Heinecke, a 1982 Cullman High School graduate and music director at Big Idea, the company behind the Veggie Tales videos
‰ What: Cullman City Schools Foundation annual fundraiser
‰ When: Reception begins at 5 p.m., with the program following at 6 p.m. Saturday
‰ Where: Northbrook Baptist Church on Alabama Highway 157
‰ Cost: Tickets to the reception are $25, and include admittance to the program. Tickets to the program are $10 for adults, $5 for students. Children younger than 5 will be admitted free.
‰ For more information: Call Seth Thompson at 734-4591
Veggie Tales music director to speak in Cullman Saturday
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