John Carter, CEO of Jack Lewis Jewelers WINS the Celebrity Conductor Challenge, a fundraiser hosted by the Illinois Symphony Guild of Bloomington-Normal

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Four outstanding celebrity community members competed in the first Celebrity Conductor Challenge hosted by the Illinois Symphony Guild of Bloomington-Normal. This unique fundraiser invited the community to support their favorite candidate by donating in honor of the candidate to the Illinois Symphony Orchestra. The conductor challenge candidates included John Carter, CEO of Jack Lewis Jewelers, Tracy Koch, Artistic Director of MIOpera, Laura O’Connor, Administrative Assistant at Little Jewels Learning Center, and Valerie Wyatt, Interior Designer for Enduring Elegance. The votes are in and the winner of the first Celebrity Conductor Challenge is John Carter, CEO of Jack Lewis Jewelers. John will make his debut as Celebrity Conductor at the Holiday Pops in the Heartland concert, as he conducts the Illinois Symphony Orchestra and the Springfield Choral Society perform the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah.

“All of the candidates contributed to the success of this fundraiser,” said Peggy Hundley, event co-chair. The challenge raised $7,000 to support the award-winning education programs of the Illinois Symphony Orchestra. “We greatly appreciate the community spirit of this event and the dedication to the arts from this group of challengers,” Elaine Cousins, event co-chair expressed.

Listen LIVE! to your Illinois Symphony Orchestra and catch John Carter’s debut as Celebrity Conductor on Saturday, December 17, 2022 at 7:30 PM at the Center for the Performing Arts at Illinois State University. Order your tickets and we’ll see you there! Tickets may be purchased in Normal through the ISU Center for the Performing Arts Ticket Office at 309-438-2535 or online at Single ticket prices range from $6 for students (11 & under) to $66 for premium seating. Senior and group discounts are also available.

Holiday Pops in the Heartland is sponsored by season sponsors The Landmark Automotive Group and Debra & Daniel Brownstone, M.D., concert sponsors Memorial Health and US Bank.

The Illinois Symphony Orchestra is central Illinois’ largest professional orchestra serving over 35,000 patrons in the communities of Bloomington-Normal, Springfield and the surrounding region with symphony orchestra, chamber orchestra, and Concerts for Kids series in each community. In addition to concert performances, the Orchestra's music education and outreach programs serve pre-K and elementary schools through the Itsy Arts and Music Matters education programs and reach middle schools, high schools, universities, community organizations and senior centers through guest artist residencies and musician and ensemble performances. The ISO also has an active Around the Town Chamber Music Series and virtual Sunday at Six Recital Series. The Illinois Symphony Orchestra has a budget of approximately $1.3 million.

In July 2020, the ISO acquired the Sangamon Valley Youth Symphony (SVYS) organization that was started in the early 1970s by parents, music teachers and musicians to keep string programs and youth orchestra in Springfield and surrounding communities following the elimination of all school orchestra programs. Now, the Illinois Symphony Youth Orchestras (ISYO) programs consist of Starter and Junior Strings, Preparatory Orchestra, Concert Orchestra and Symphony Orchestra serving over 150 students. The ISO also has a partnership in education and community engagement (PEACE) with the UIS-School of Music and Illinois State University’s Wonsook Kim College of Fine Arts and School of Music.

Additional information about the Illinois Symphony Orchestra is available at

The ISO is partially funded by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency.


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