This, above all else, is a love story.
Trenna Montes knew her husband Ralph had a raw, natural talent for playing music – something he didn’t see in himself. She took her time. Waited. Watched. When the opportunity presented itself, she placed an instrument in her husband’s hands. That’s when the magic happened.
Now that magic and the music it inspired is available for everyone to hear, much to the surprise of the man who never knew he was musician.
A few years ago, the couple visited a mountain man rendezvous in Carson City, Nevada. Trenna walked into a tent were Native American flutes were sold. She picked up a unique flute; two pipes joined at the top to form one instrument. She asked Ralph to buy it for her. He did. And then she handed it back to him and said, “Play it.”
Ralph grew up around music with a family that plays a variety of instruments, but he didn’t play or read music himself. He grew up at Fort Duchesne, Utah on the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation, but wasn’t familiar with the sounds of the Native American flutes. Trenna knew instinctively what Ralph did not: He needed to play the flute. Within a year, he composed his first song.
He can’t explain where the music comes from. Ralph Montes simply plays.
“It will tell you what it wants,” he said of his flutes. “The flutes have a personality; you provide the spirit.”
He has collected half dozen flutes since he bought the first. He plays in the mornings as a way to prepare the day. He plays because it’s what Trenna wants to hear. The music is soothing. When Trenna was suffering the effects of cancer treatments, he’d play for her. She said it helped her deal with the pain.
“I’d be lying on the floor thinking I was gonna die,” she said. “He’d play something happy and I could get off the floor and at least sit down at the table and enjoy supper with him.”
In June 2010, Trenna and Ralph made CDs of Ralph’s music for family and close friends. Before long, they got more requests for the music. In August, they made a new CD – this one professionally recorded and available for sale to the general public. In one month they’ve already sold 400 copies.
By day, Ralph is an iron worker. He’s traveled all over the West working on various construction projects. Three years ago, the couple settled in Shoshone. It was closer to Trenna’s Mackay-based family and provides Ralph a central location from which he can travel to jobs throughout the region. He says he takes his flutes to work with him and sometimes plays for his coworkers.
“If you can play for iron workers, then you know you’re good,” Ralph said with a smile. It’s not something, however, he recommends. The music has a side effect: it’s relaxing. Once he plays it at work, it’s hard to get back in the rhythm of work, which isn’t necessarily a good thing on a job site. Trenna said they have friends who made the mistake of playing the CD while driving down the freeway. They missed their exit after being lulled into relaxation by Ralph’s music.
On Oct.2, Ralph will play at a benefit concert for the Wishing Star Foundation’s Magic Valley chapter in Twin Falls. It’s something he wanted to do to “give back” for the success he’s had so far. Chapter President Allie Vargas said Ralph will play along with four other local artists to raise money for the group, which grants wishes for kids with life threatening diseases.
“We had to have more than Ralph play because he’d have the whole audience asleep,” Vargas joked. She said Ralph’s music reaches deeper than most.
“You can tell it’s coming from a deeper source than music on a paper. It’s coming from his soul. You’re listening to someone’s thoughts and feelings and that comes through the music,” Vargas said.
While Ralph’s music is now available to people outside the Montes family, it remains something deeply personal for Ralph and Trenna.
“His best playing is when he shuts his eyes,” Trenna said. It’s then when instinct takes over and the music that was once dormant within Ralph Montes comes out. But is it a spiritual experience?
At that question, the iron worker with a musical soul closes his eyes. He is silent. When he answers he is very serious.
“This music is for me and my wife. Our special moments,” he said.
Moments the Montes family has agreed to share with the world.
Contributor Karma Metzler Fitzgerald writes from her home just down the road from Ralph and Trenna Montes. She has learned the hard way it’s, indeed, not safe to listen to Ralph’s CD while driving.
Wishing Foundation Benefit Concert
CSI Fine Arts Center
7 p.m., Oct. 2, 2010.
Trailing of the Sheep Festival
Oct. 9, 2010
CD – First Day of Spring, Ralph Montes Jr.
To order, call 208-544-7890
Or call Midnight Productions: 1-800-676-8636