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Missoula Symphony's family concert

Creighton James, left, and Darko Butorac, right, play a conductor and a detective in the Missoula Symphony Orchestra’s 2013 family concert.

A miscreant named Bad Bart has been wrecking havoc, throwing out sour notes and generally disrupting the otherwise peaceful orchestra.

It's up to Deputy Darko and his partner to rein Bart in.

The deputy is, of course, Darko Butorac, the music director of the Missoula Symphony Orchestra. The script is for the annual family concert, "Dust Up at the Symphony Corral."

Way back in 2009, Butorac and Creighton James wrote their first family-concert script together. This is his last family concert, too. In April, he'll lead his final show with the Missoula Symphony before departing for a new job as music conductor with the Asheville Symphony in North Carolina.

The concept was born of necessity. Why pay for a family show when they could make their own?

"We thought we could do something in-house and do it better," Butorac said.

The two met as graduate students at Indiana University. James moved to Missoula just before the symphony was searching for a new leader.

"MSO began doing their search for an artistic director and conductor and lo and behold, this guy we knew from grad school was on the list of five finalists," James said.

They reconnected and decided to test their hand at writing and performing for children.

The show is meant to introduce them to classical music in a light atmosphere — it's anything but a formal masterworks concerts.

"This is like going to a theater show," Butorac said. "It's supposed to engage the audience. We want the kids to get excited, we want them to raise their hand and give answers to questions — and in this case be on the lookout for Bad Bart."

In the first year, there wasn't much of a plot. It was more of a theme about how music is built, James said.

"I was a construction worker that wandered into the symphony hall and learned a little with the kids," he said.

The plots gradually got more complicated. They took note of the popularity of Pixar films, and the way they "hit on motifs and archetypes that always speak to children, but the humor and all of the jokes were quick and quick-witted, with adults in mind," James said.

As a conductor, Butorac gets to interact as well.

"For me, it's all about breaking the fourth wall and engaging the kids as partners in discovering music, and learning about the orchestra, learning about the different instruments, things like rhythm, harmony, melody, the building blocks of music, as it were," he said.

They pick music for the hourlong show that kids will be familiar with while moving the story along and illustrating musical concepts: Aaron Copland's "Hoedown," Dvorak's Ninth Symphony, aka "The New World," and Strauss' Blue Danube Waltz.

"Hearing something live that they're familiar with is a really powerful emotional experience. Because you see the instruments playing, the feeling of acoustic live sound as opposed to a compressed digital recording is really not the same thing," he said.

The ultimate goal is to get them interested in classical and perhaps learn to play themselves.

"An event like this, is really designed to show kids there is beauty in music, there is beauty in playing instruments, and instruments have personalities, and they should look for ones that reflect their own and feel comfortable with and they relate to, and when it happens, it's awesome, it's a beautiful, beautiful thing to experience," he said.

One James' favorites was 2015's "Orchestra Olympics."

"That was pretty unique among all of them in the amount of involvement by the players in the orchestra, and each section of the orchestra essentially was a country," he said.

For James, who moved to Las Vegas last year and is returning for the show, it's been a pleasure seeing the members of the orchestra get more excited about the concert.

He said they "never knew whether we were going to see the stereotypical union orchestra member that's hesitant to let their guard down and goof around a bit."

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