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April 18, 2014

'VeggieTales' award-winning musical composer Kurt Heinecke at WSCC Monday

HANCEVILLE — Kurt Heinecke always knew he wanted to follow his passion for music and carve a career out of it. Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber are glad he did.

Heinecke, an award-winning musical composer for the Christian-based, computer animated “VeggieTales” series, will share his career path at Wallace State Community College on Monday, April 21 at 9:30 a.m., as part of the Arts in April festivities at the Burrow Center for the Fine and Performing Arts. The event is free and open to the community.

Heinecke’s visit will also be homecoming of sorts after graduating from Cullman High School in 1982. While at Cullman High, Heinecke also took music lessons at Wallace State from former music department head Robert Bean.

“It’s always fun to have an opportunity to come back to your hometown. It’s probably been seven years since I was in around the Cullman area. I’m looking forward to it,” said Heinecke, 50, who now lives in Franklin, Tenn., where he is the music director of Big Idea Entertainment.

“VeggieTales,” which debuted in December 1993 and was developed by Heinecke’s Big Idea Entertainment, has been tailored towards children for more than two decades, using computer-animated vegetables to convey important Christian moral themes and Biblically-based values and lessons. Along with touches of humor in each episode, “VeggieTales” follows these vegetables, including the popular Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber, through stories beginning from a kitchen countertop.

Heinecke has been the musical man behind the scenes for “VeggieTales,” earning six Dove Awards for his work. The Dove Awards are the Christian and gospel music equivalent of the Grammys. The “VeggieTales” series, which ran on NBC’s Saturday morning children’s programming block from 2006-2009, has sold 55 million copies of DVDs or CDs since its inception.

“I feel it’s been good entertainment for children. We have seen the ups and downs with it, but it’s been a lot of fun. It’s been rewarding to see how many families and kids have positively been affected by it,” said Heinecke during a phone interview from Tennessee on Monday. “When I do visit a college, I’m having students coming up to me, telling me how much the series was a positive part of their upbringing. It’s important to me to hear those stories.”

Heinecke, 50, was born in Wisconsin and moved to Cullman by the time he was in junior high. Heinecke’s family was always very active musically at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Cullman, and he continued that musical pedigree onto the University of Montevallo, where he obtained a degree in music education. After more time collegiately in Iowa at Luther College, Heinecke became a choir director at a contemporary church in Chicago, where was approached by “VeggieTales” creators Phil Vischer and Mike Nawrocki about the possibility of providing music for the series before it debuted.

“We never realized it would become as popular as it did. I knew it was going to be a fun series. It was going to have an important theme, but also be silly and humorous. We felt it was good entertainment,” Heinecke said.

 Heinecke admits he never left Cullman or college expecting to be a multi-award winning composer.

 “Being part of a musical family, I knew I wanted to be involved in music. All sorts of doors then began to open. There are a lot of different things you can do to make a great career out of music and each of the steps I took wasn’t necessarily a goal. They fell into place because of my musical background or someone giving me an opportunity,” Heinecke said. “It helped me realize you don’t always have to have a 10-year goal. Go out and do the best you can at what you love to do and see where the doors open after that.”

Wallace State’s English Department is sponsoring Heinecke’s visit to campus.

“A lot of our Wallace State students grew up watching ‘VeggieTales’ and are very familiar with it. We’re glad Kurt has agreed to come and speak about his experiences. He is proof that you can enjoy a successful living pursuing an art,” said Gayle Ledbetter, an English and speech instructor at Wallace State and a former classmate of Heinecke’s.

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