Sound of success — A look at Tech’s new band director Chris Heidenreich

By T. Scott Boatright

 

Louisiana Tech University’s newest music man, Chris Heidenreich, let his love of playing trumpet while growing up in Brunwick, Ohio, about 20 miles south of Cleveland, eventually lead him on his journey to become the director of The Band of Pride last September.

His hiring came after the retirement last summer of Jim Robken, a Tech music education graduate and leader of Tech’s bands for 30 years.

“My father, who is deceased now, and my mother both grew up in Cleveland, so I’m a sad Browns fan, Indians fan — a fan of all things Cleveland because that’s where I grew up,”  Heidenreich said. “And in high school, there was just something about the marching band in particular that told me as a sophomore in high school that I wanted to be a band director.”

But while Robken grew up in nearby El Dorado, Arkansas, Heidenreich had much more acclimating to do after agreeing to make the move south after working at the University of Michigan-Flint since 2009. 

“I really enjoy the weather,” Heidenreich said of his new home in Ruston. “On Sunday, my pastor said he was disappointed that we didn’t get any real snow a few days earlier. I wanted to tell him afterwards that snow is a little bit overrated. I don’t mind the nicer temperatures.

“Our adjustment has been great. The community’s been very welcoming. The students have been fantastic. They give me a hard time about not saying ‘y’all’ enough. It’s been a real transition. The way people talk about band — not just Louisiana Tech’s band, but bands in general —has been a real big surprise for me. Bands here are important to communities, not just universities. It’s a big part of high school communities here. And that’s great. I love it.” 

Heidenreich said he was attracted to Tech because of the opportunity to oversee an entire program and to get back into marching band as well as orchestral, or concert bands.

“It’s just a love that I have of bands, whatever style,” Heidenreich said. “There is a sound I look for. But it’s the same sound for marching band and concert music. The biggest thing about concert bands is what we play. I’ve had teachers who have been very good at picking music that appeals to both styles. Just picking good music is so ingrained in me thanks to the great teachers I’ve had over the course of my career.”

Heading south also gave Heidenreich the opportunity to include new songs and sounds into the bands he leads.

“I think there are different tastes on both the West and East Coasts,” Heidenreich said. “Here you have that ‘second-line’ sound and attitude. There’s a part of me that wants to say music is music. But I do think that there’s a sound that I think people associate with New Orleans and Louisiana just like there’s a sound people associate with Chicago, or with New York. 

“For example, The Band of Pride has been invited to march in the Rex Parade in New Orleans on Mardi Gras day. And we’re going to play a song that has a real New Orleans sound to it called ‘Do What You Want’ by the Rebirth Brass Band. That’s an exciting opportunity you don’t get at other places.”

Heidenreich admits the first thing he noticed about Tech band students is the love they show.

“The biggest thing I found out is how dedicated our band members are, and that’s just a big tribute to Jim Robken and the legacy he’s left behind,” Heidenreich said. “It’s a genuine feeling the band members have about him, and it extends into the university. They just love Louisiana Tech.” 

Heidenreich said his love for his job comes from his love of some the nation’s top bands like Grambling State and Ohio State.

“I haven’t seen the Grambling band in person yet, but I’ve followed them for years,” Heidenreich said. “It took a while, but the Bayou Classic telecasts finally figured that the halftime shows are as exciting and fun as the game. 

“And I’m the kind of person who likes stealing ideas. So I’m always paying attention to Ohio State. I follow Michigan. My roots are Big 10 schools, so that’s usually where I go to first, but I follow the Clemson band, the Alabama band, the Arkansas band. Any and all of them honesty. And I’ll grab anything — any idea or sound — I like from all of them.”

Heidenreich said love of music has led him to many different sounds over the years.

“One of the things I loved about teaching in my last position is that I had to teach a music appreciation course,” Heidenreich said “One of my projects with that class was to turn my students loose and let them show me the music they enjoyed. I’ll always go back to the ’80s because that’s when I grew up, but I’ll listen to anything. In my previous position I conducted the orchestra for a couple of years, and while I had previously had exposure to the big pieces, there’s so much music for strings in small orchestras that I enjoyed when I had to dive into that. I’ve already played trumpet with a jazz ensemble here. I just love music and finding out things I have not heard before.”

 
 

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