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Carol Word and her friends were seasoned professionals at finding the perfect spot in Caras Park to watch the 11th annual Symphony in the Park on Sunday.

“Every year they’ve done it, we’ve been here,” Word said.

She and the rest of her party had come downtown early and pulled together a pair of picnic tables, spread out a selection of sandwiches, cheese and wine, and made the night into an occasion.

“So we forgot the candelabras – get off our back,” Kathe Calcagno said.

The group was just a part of the crowd which blanketed the park Sunday evening, with organizers estimating that nearly 6,000 people had turned out to watch the Missoula Symphony Orchestra’s annual free show.

Symphony music director Darko Butorac said in picking the pieces that would be part of the performance, he chose music from the iconic movies in Hollywood cinema history, trying not to leave out any of the classic show themes.

“I guess there’s no ‘Star Wars’ but maybe we’ll do something on that next year,” he said.

Following their rendition of the national anthem, the orchestra lept into the theme music from “Ben-Hur” and “Schindler’s List.” A brief shower of rain accompanied a suite of songs written by Max Steiner for “Casablanca.”

Butorac said the theme music from movies like “Ben-Hur” and “Casablanca” were special because they were each composed in a matter of weeks during production.

“It’s like having fast food production for a movie, and it ends up being one of the best movies ever made,” he said.

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The symphony regularly holds a conductor raffle to let one lucky Missoulian lead one of the orchestra’s pieces. This year, the winner was Isaac Poteet, who had the opportunity to conduct for John Philip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” It was the chance of a lifetime for any fan of music, but wasn’t the most interesting thing about this year’s raffle. That would be that Poteet is only 7 years old.

Butorac had to push the conductor's stand down because Poteet couldn't see over the top.

“This is the youngest person ever to conduct the Missoula Symphony Orchestra,” Butorac said. “Now he’s going to make his conducting debut in front of more than 5,000 people.”

As the last notes of the song faded, Poteet received the loudest standing ovation of the night.

***

In addition to the five shows that will make up this year’s Missoula symphony season, John Driscoll, executive director of the Missoula Symphony Association, said they will be launching a new initiative this year, a trifecta of cabaret-style shows featuring touring orchestral musicians from around the country who will play at the Top Hat Lounge.

Driscoll said the series came from conversations between him and Butorac about how to bring more music to Missoula and not overload the members of the symphony.

“It’s a more intimate, more private feel to the shows, with some world class talent,” he said.

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