Our Stories

Kick Back to Cool Tunes from a Classical Cellist's Tom Culver's "Other Life"

Quite a few of the West Suburban Symphony performers you see in dress black on our concert stage have active musical lives in other genres. One of those is Tom Culver. Here we'll feature a changing selection of links to videos he's created during the pandemic. When not playing under the WSS "label," Tom is the director of orchestras in La Grange Park District 102 and has long performed widely as an electric cellist/ violinist, guitarist, drummer, pianist, and vocalist with local bands, including The Blooze Brothers and Strung Out-Chicago.

Listen here to The Devil Went Down to Georgia and enjoy!

Cartoons and Classical Music, by Cellist Rich Lukes

For some people, their first introduction to classical musical is via listening to the radio, hearing a recording, or experiencing the music at a live concert. For me, my first exposure to classical music was through cartoons, specifically cartoons created by Walt Disney and Chuck Jones.

In 1936, Disney began working on a short cartoon to boost the popularity of his character Mickey Mouse. The cartoon was to tell the story of the Sorcerer's Apprentice, written by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and orchestrated by Paul Dukas. That short cartoon morphed into the full-length movie Fantasia, premiering in 1940. Fantasia consisted of 8 cartoon short films, with music from the Sorcerer's Apprentice and 7 other classical works. It was considered a masterpiece by many critics when it came out and its popularity grew from there.

For me, Fantasia was a life-changing experience. I didn't see it until I was a teenager. While I knew the premise, I did not expect the majestic beauty Disney brought to the screen. The colors and artistry, accompanied by the beauty of the music, made me cry during the movie. It's a true masterpiece. Fantasia is the reason Ludwig von Beethoven's sixth symphony, the Pastoral, is one of my favorite pieces to play.

Chuck Jones, another pioneer in animation, also used classical music in his cartoons, which featured such Warner Brothers characters as Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, and Daffy Duck. But where Disney used classical music in a serious way, Jones and Warner Brothers were part of the "anti-Fantasia" movement. They poked fun at Fantasiawith such Looney Tunes shorts as Long-Haired Hare (1949), The Rabbit of Seville (1950), and What's Opera, Doc (1957).

Watching these cartoons as a kid led to my life-long love of classical music. I started playing the cello when I was 9 years old. Today, as a West Suburban Symphony member, every time I hear Richard Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries, I hear Elmer Fudd singing "kill the wabbit" in my head and every time I play Gioachino Rossini'sOverture to Barber of Seville, I hear Elmer singing, "Ooooh, where do I get the wabbit." It makes me smile and laugh every time.

To quote the website Musica, "Modern Americans often equate The Barber of Seville with Bugs Bunny; for better or for worse, Chuck Jones is the gateway between cartoon enthusiasts and opera." I'll add classical music as well.

These cartoons opened the door to my opportunity to perform some of the most amazing music ever written.

Rich Lukes, the President of the West Suburban Symphony Society, joined our orchestra as a cellist in 1990. He grew up in Chicago and lives in Berwyn, a Chicago suburb. Rich is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago and, by day, a computer programmer at Rush University Hospital. He and his wife own the Comic Collector shop in Riverside, Illinois.

A Lifetime of Singing, by Soprano Carlotta Wing Conley

Classical music has been a part of my life since my earliest recollections. There was always music playing in our home: all types of music including classical. I have sung with various groups since a young age and cannot remember a time when I wasn't singing.

I am very fortunate to have had the opportunity to perform with the West Suburban Symphony Singers since the group was founded. Singing very exciting music -- like Carl Orff's Carmina Burana, Gieseppe Verdi's Requiem. Mozart's Requiem, Gabriel Faure's Requiem, and Antonio Vivaldi's Gloria under the direction of Maestro Lipari has been an extremely wonderful and fulfilling experience for me. In addition, some of the music we've sung from stage and screen, like Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of The Opera, George and Ira Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, and Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein's Oklahoma! has been such a great experience. I'm looking forward to a time when we can make music together again for our audiences.

Carlotta Wing Conley, the media relations manager on the West Suburban Symphony Society's Board of Directors, joined our chorus as a soprano as a founding member in 2003. She grew up in Chicago and lives in Downers Grove, a Chicago suburb. She retired as an executive assistant from Lucent Technologies and is a member of her church choir as well as the Tower Chorale community chorus.

From the Band to the Chorus, by Tenor Paul Ruffolo

I began studying piano at age 5 and continued to do so for 10 years. I first started playing in a band in grade school, followed by a band in high school, both in school and out. Shortly thereafter, I joined the Chicago Musicians Union and began playing nightclubs throughout the Chicagoland area. Following graduation from the University of Illinois, I began playing out of state and wound up playing and singing in Las Vegas. In the late 1970s, I began singing classical music and conducting the "Royal Chamber Choir." During this period, I performed a variety of music, which included Octavo music by a variety of singers, including Andrea Boccelli. I am still performing with orchestras, in choirs, and as a soloist.

Paul Ruffolo, who lives in Bolingbrook, has sung with the West Suburban Symphony Singers for many years. He is a professional bartender and retired police officer.