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The Sounds of Christmas Come from Ivory

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The Sounds of Christmas Come from Ivory

Ruth Barnes

BULL RIVER, MONTANA – On a hillside near the South Fork Bull River, an extraordinary home overlooks one of the most spectacular valleys in Montana. But the home is not extraordinary as much for its architecture or the scenery that embraces it as for the couple that lives there. Dick and Ruth Barnes built the house over eight years ago, and are loved by many local people for two reasons, at least – one is for Dick’s leadership as Pastor of Troy Christian Fellowship and the other is because of Ruth’s immense musical talent.

    Seated at the Wurlitzer grand piano situated unassumingly in the spacious Bighorn Lodge on Bull River one recent Saturday evening, Ruth accompanied an exquisite dinner and a festive holiday atmosphere with music that only angels could inspire. Her music was so sublime, the crowd partaking of the scrumptious Christmas fare loudly applauded when she simply rose to excuse herself to freshen up. She returned moments later with yet more melodious Christmas cheer intricately woven out of ivory.

    “I’ve been playing since I was a little girl,” Ruth said. “My mother was my teacher. I played the piano at my mother’s elbow.”

    At the age of six, Ruth was playing with a women’s sextet, and throughout her life she has studied music off and on. She began by learning classical music, but she explained that her strongest devotion is to worship music and Christian gospel. She also plays the organ, and at one time played what was then the largest pipe organ of its kind west of the Mississippi in San Diego.

    She and Dick have been married 47 years and they have four grown children, all of whom are musically talented in their own right. They play instruments such as the violin, cello and piano. In fact, music has been a tradition in Ruth’s family from one generation to the next. Aside from her mother’s own talent, she said her father “enjoyed every instrument he could get a hold of,” but liked the trumpet most. That led to Ruth playing the trumpet at one time in her high school marching band.

    The Barnes came to this area more than 17 years ago when they were first looking for property to settle on. “We were having pie and coffee at the old Driftwood (now the Nine Mile House) when a waitress suggested we take a drive up Bull River,” Ruth said. “When we saw Snowshoe Peak and Ibex, we fell in love.”

    Indeed, the Barnes’ home may very well have the best view of the high Cabinets of any home in the valley. It took a few years for them to begin building their home, but as retired school teachers now involved in a full time ministry, they find that they love the place they have chosen to live.

    These days, Ruth loves the opportunity to sit down at a piano and let the music flow from her fingertips to the ivory keys and out into a room for anyone to enjoy. She plays the synthesizer at her husband’s church, and once in a while accompanies musical ensembles at other Christian gatherings. But as for that Saturday evening at Bighorn Lodge, she said, “I’m thrilled to be here. It’s the first I’ve been able to play (in a public format like this) since we moved here. It’s a chance to do something I love to do.”

    And she’d love to do it more often. All it would take is an invitation to play for most any occasion. The reward will be an ample dose of the most angelic music this side of heaven. Ruth can be reached at 406-295-4448.


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Dennis Nicholls Dennis Nicholls was the founder, publisher, janitor and paperboy of the River Journal from 1993 to 2001. He passed away in 2009.

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