The life of a local entertainer and teacher extraordinaire will be commemorated with a special event in Tamworth town hall on Saturday, February 17.
The Soiree of the Year will celebrate the life of Jennie Heaton, a teacher of singing, dance, drama and piano who died in November 2023 but left her mark on Tamworth's arts community.
Life-long friend and Tamworth theatrical stalwart, actor, singer, director, and producer Bill Gleeson said Mrs Heaton made a significant contribution to live performance locally, nationally and internationally.
Mrs Heaton arrived in Tamworth in the late 1980s and Mr Gleeson said she "walked straight into the job" as head of piano studies at Tamworth Regional Conservatorium, before establishing her own School of Performing Arts, which was well patronised by students drawn from across the region and beyond.
"Jennie was behind students who went onto much better things - I don't know what Tamworth would have done without her ... she was a unique personality," Mr Gleeson said.
"She did everything from leading roles on the stage to conducting in the orchestra pit."
Mr Gleeson named Nicole Kidman (for vocal training) and her father Tony Kidman (for piano), as well as country music singer Felicity Urquhart among Mrs Heaton's students.
The Capitol Theatre's audience development and marketing coordinator, and Tamworth's "leading lady" for 10 years, Ann Walsh, counts herself lucky to have been among Mrs Heaton's students.
"What made Jennie such a good teacher, and what was so special about her, was a bit of reverse psychology," Mrs Walsh said.
"You went to Jennie because you wanted to learn, and then you felt you had to do really well because she was putting so much work into you - you did really well for her, but in turn you were doing better yourself.
"Jennie had high expectations of all her students."
A quick scan through a list for former students shows few, if any, ever failed to deliver.
Mrs Heaton's top students include:
- founder and principal of the London Contemporary School of Piano, Tom Donald
- international soprano opera singer, Amanda Windred
- international bass opera singer Luke Stoker
- National Institute of Dramatic Art-trained stage and screen singer/actor, Nic Simpson-Deeks
- New Zealand music theatre performer and trainer, and professional
Students who have stayed in Australia, and here in Tamworth, include Gabriella McDonald, Deirdre Burke, Kyle Raftery, Andrew Trigg, and Sean Hamilton to name a few.
"If you look at the who's who of entertainers here in Tamworth, they all went to the Jennie Heaton School of Performing Arts," Mrs Walsh said.
"Her school was the main feeder for talent into Tamworth Musical Society and Tamworth Dramatic Society, while she was also on the executive for the Tamworth Eisteddfod and conductor for the Tamworth Choral Society."
While Mrs Heaton's legacy will be carried on by her former students, Mr Gleeson said she would also be remembered for her key role in the establishment of Tamworth's Capitol Theatre.
"Jennie was horrified to discover Tamworth had no theatre when she arrived in town," Mr Gleeson said.
"We walked into the town hall and I said 'this is it Jen, this is where it all happens'.
"She said 'yes, but where is the theatre', and I said we haven't got one.
"Jen said 'you've got to have a theatre - every city has a theatre', and I said, no, this is it.
"She said, 'we'll do something about that'," he said.
Mrs Heaton started a movement in Tamworth that got people interested and thinking about that fact the city was the only one in NSW that didn't have a theatre.
"Wagga, Dubbo, Orange and Albury all had beautiful theatres but not Tamworth," Mr Gleeson said.
"It took 20 years, but Tamworth got it's theatre, unfortunately Jennie never performed in it."
"The concert will features performances by many of Jennie's former students, with live performances streamed from students Australia- wide and from overseas," she said.
The event's production team is being led by Mrs Heaton's daughter, Kirsten Corin, along with Tom Donald, Stephen Carter, Mrs Walsh, Peter Ross, and Gabriela McDonald (Bonomo).
Mrs Walsh said the event was free, but those interested in going should still book through Entertainment Venues.