Pops in the Park on Saturday, Aug. 27, 2022. (Jake Hoffman/Hoffman PC, Oil City News)

CASPER, Wyo. — Casper’s Amber Pollock had a life steeped in music before it took her in a new direction.

Years before co-founding the Backwards Distilling Company, Amber earned a master’s degree in music education and was well into her career as a public school music teacher and violin tutor.

“When I first moved [back] to Casper, I was teaching music and playing with the symphony,” she said. In 2012, she helped launch the craft distilling business with her brother, Chad, and their parents, Kathy and Bill. The successful family business soon demanded most of Amber’s attention, forcing her to put music mostly on the back burner.

Thanks to a fundraiser earlier this year, Amber will once again flex her music chops in front of the very orchestra in which she used to perform.

Amber was one of four Casper candidates for the Wyoming Symphony Orchestra’s “Pursuit of the Podium” fundraiser that encouraged people to vote with their donations on who should conduct the WSO during a section of its annual Pops in the Park concert. During most of the competition, Amber was neck-and-neck with Natrona County Health Trust CEO Beth Worthen before ultimately pulling ahead.

“We communicated a few times, and we had a friendly rivalry going on for sure,” Amber said.

Amber Pollock poses in the Backwards Distilling tasting room in downtown Casper on May 25, 2019. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City News File)

The original plan was to have the guest conductor briefly replace Music Director Christopher Dragon to lead the orchestra during “Cowboy Joe.” However, because of her musical background, Amber was offered to also lead “Hoedown” from Aaron Copland’s classic “Rodeo” ballet.

“That’s a little more challenging, so it’ll take some preparation,” she said. “I’ll be meeting with Chris, and he’s going to go over how he marks the score and do a little bit of practice.”

“It’s been a number of years since I’ve been in a conducting class, so I’ll definitely have to dust some cobwebs off,” she added, “but it’ll be fun, and Chris is doing all the heavy lifting with the orchestra.”

“I get to just show up and hopefully do it justice.”

The guest conductor is only a part of this year’s Pops performance. The headline is the orchestra’s collaboration with Wyoming roots band John Kirlin & the High Plains Drifters.

For the first time, the orchestra hired two orchestrators to write music for the orchestra to accompany the band, according to WSO Executive Director Rebecca Hebert.

“John [Kirlin] picked out 15 songs, and then we sent them to two orchestrators in Colorado, who then changed them to include the symphony,” she said. “So it’s John and the band and the symphony playing all the songs.”

A computer simulation of the orchestrations was created as a reference, according to Rebecca. “I’ve heard them, and I think they are great, but I’m really excited to hear the live musicians,” she said. “There’s just something about live music that doesn’t get translated electronically.” The orchestra’s musicians have received their parts and are rehearsing individually before everyone gathers in Casper for final rehearsals days before the live performance, she said.

Months of planning and meticulous preparation will all be presented on stage at Washington Park on Saturday, Aug. 26. The Pops in the Park outdoor shows were launched for the Solar Eclipse in 2017 and have since become a summer tradition and unofficial launch to the WSO’s season. Excluding the Eclipse performance — considering that Casper was filled with thousands of tourists — the outdoor concerts have drawn larger crowds year after year, said Rebecca.

For her part, Amber is enthusiastic about participating with the WSO from both a musical and a community standpoint.

“We are really lucky to have a symphony orchestra of this caliber in a community our size,” she said. “Most people are probably traveling to get these types of live performances, but to me it’s quite an accomplishment that our community has been able to support the orchestra for as long as we have, and I’m so very enthusiastic to be a part of that this year.”

The 2023 “Pops in the Park” performance is Saturday, Aug. 26 at Washington Park. Gates open at 5:30 p.m. and the concert starts at 7:30 p.m. Individual tickets are available at $15 and family passes, which include two adults and up to three children under the age of 18, are available at $50.

Local food and drink vendors will be on site, and concert-goers are welcome to pack in their own food and drink. Glass containers are prohibited.

Visit the WSO’s website to purchase tickets and for more information.