2016-03-09 / Features

Renee Heitmann

Renee Heitmann, soprano singer and voice teacher, is living her childhood dream of residing in New York City and making music. She grew up in Penn Yan, NY, in the Finger Lakes Region and had always dreamed of city life.

In 2008 with $72 dollars in her bank account, she packed a suitcase to camp out on her friend’s futon and give New York City a shot. Eight years later, she has a thriving voice studio and is a voice faculty member at Turtle Bay Music School in Manhattan. She enjoys performing locally and nationwide, and spreads love to fellow Astorians with her kindness project-turned-small business, Single Girl Cookies.

QG: After moving here eight years ago, what did you find in Astoria to keep you living here?

RH: Astoria has an incredible sense of community and neighborhood in a way that many other neighborhoods in New York City do not have. I initially lived in an apartment on 48th Street with a friend who had previously lived here in Astoria and wanted to get back to it, and at that point, I was thrilled to be living anywhere in NYC. Within those first three years, I had three different apartments, and every time I chose to stay in Astoria. I grew closer to the people here, loved the sense of security I had found, and it had everything that I needed for my life. I fall more in love with it each passing year. It is home.

QG: Your mom taught you to bake at a young age and your Single Girl Cookies has now turned into a small business. How is that going?

RH: I make my cookies and all my other creations from scratch, sometimes to the ridiculous degree. If there is jam or preserves called for in a recipe, I make it myself. Handmade whipped cream, handmade butter, handmade everything. I don’t even use a standing mixer. I think that’s what people respond to most. It wouldn’t feel the same if I went out and bought a package of cookies to deliver. Each batch is made specifically for that destination, and made with love.

QG: Why do you use real plates to hold your cookie batches? What are your favorite cookies to make?

RH: The plate aspect of a cookie drop is very important to me. It sends the message that “you’re not disposable.” It also harkens back to the days when new people would move into the neighborhood and you’d bring them a casserole, and the custom was for them to return your dish with something in it. That kind of neighborly behavior and sense of community is what I want to foster.

Everyone’s favorite cookie seems to be my chocolate chip cookie that is made from a secret family recipe; that’s the cookie that I bring to every business. Those chocolate chip cookies have been used to foster community in my hometown and seemed the logical choice, almost an homage to my mother, really, to use as the vehicle for my kindness here in Astoria.

QG: You share your cookies with local firehouses, take photos of firefighters and have said you’ll branch out to firehouses in Utica and Nashville, so you can produce your own “Firemen Calendar.” How is that project coming along?

RH: I have been going to firehouses here in the city to gather photos for my own firemen calendar that I have been calling “Single Girl Cookies with Firemen,” because that’s pretty much all it is! I actually have delivered cookies to other firehouses outside the city in Utica (where I did my TED talk) and Nashville (where I was visiting friends) as well. I think I’m pretty close to having enough pictures for a 12-month calendar!

QG: How did you get started teaching voice and singing professionally as a trained soprano singer?

RH: I got my musical start at a very young age when I joined the church choir at age 4. I went on to get my bachelor’s and master’s in Voice Performance (Westminster Choir College and Temple University, respectively) and got a job as an adjunct voice teacher at Hobart and William Smith Colleges the year after I graduated, as well as maintaining a private studio. I love teaching at Turtle Bay Music School and being the soprano section leader at Christ Church in Manhasset. I also continue to audition and submit for concert work and roles I’m interested in.

QG: Tell our readers what your personal recommendations are for Astoria restaurants, and places to relax and enjoy free time, either in Astoria, or elsewhere in Queens.

RH: Astoria has SO many great options when it comes to food! I’ve always been partial to The Queens Kickshaw. It’s the perfect place for so many things – meet a friend for a drink, have a dinner date, or (my favorite) sip on a cup of coffee in the daytime with a good book. I also highly recommend 60 Beans on Ditmars. If you are looking for an incredible meal, great service and a casual atmosphere, this is the place. They both embody everything I love about Astoria – the people are friendly, there is a sense of family-like community, and they feel like home.

This column was originated in July 2013 by Nicollette Barsamian.

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