Bill Youhass left his Fall Creek keyboard percussion shop near Rochester, New York and drove north to Toronto for a short vacation and to celebrate a Baltimore Super Bowl victory. Bill’s a true sports fan and my wife and I were looking forward to cheering on the Ravens. (The Ravens should be the Colts, but that is a story too painful to write. Anyway, the Ravens won.) A few hours before the game Bill and I wandered along King Street West and on the way home stopped in Zoe’s Cafe. We ordered lattes, found a comfortable place to sit and began talking about percussion instruments. The conversation drifted around to our experiences exploring instruments while students.
Bill mentioned a triangle he discovered as a youngster. It had a slight chip on one side which if struck exactly, produced an amazing sound. During an orchestra rehearsal he played on that spot and his world changed. The sound of that triangle went throughout the orchestra lighting up all the other sounds, setting him on a percussionist’s path. Prior to his tuning career, Bill played with The Percussion Group Cincinatti.
Bill’s story reminded me of a triangle I had purchased via telephone after reading a Sunday New York Times article about a triangle maker in rural Louisiana (30 April, 2006). For years Dieu Donné Montoucet (Don) had been combing the countryside in ever-growing circles, harvesting antique tines from old farm machinery. Properly tempered, these tines were durable, rang true and had a penetrating sound much admired by Cajun afficionados.
The Times article contained a photograph of Don in his workshop with triangles hanging on a cord behind him. As Don’s business grew, he had to search farther and farther afield to find the proper metal. Antique tines were becoming scarce. The future of these Stradivarius or Montoucet triangles looked grim. The Savoy Music Center in Eunice, LA sold Don’s triangles, so first thing Monday morning I telephoned Louisiana information and asked for the Savoy’s phone number. I was soon talking to a woman I took to be one of the owners. I had called just in time.
When I told her I wished to buy three triangles, one of each size, she said it wasn’t possible. She too, as well as many other people, had read the Times article and now she had only 3 left. One had already been sold and one had to be kept in the store for display. That pretty much narrowed it down, so I took the only triangle left, an 8 inch model. I sent her a check and not long after, the instrument so prized by Cajun musicians everywhere, was in hand. Now, what to do with it?
The first time I used that beautiful instrument was in a piece of contemporary music written for Nexus by Linda Smith. Linda lives in Toronto with her husband and fellow composer and percussionist Rick Sacks. Linda wrote a wonderful, delicately spacey work wherein, among other things, each member of Nexus needed a triangle.
In 2008, I purchased a CD by Christine Balfa (b.1968), a musician and daughter of Dewey Balfa, founder of the Balfa Brothers Band, now an iconic group in Cajun country. Christine learned the music as a child and played triangle in her dad’s band. When Dewey died in 1992, Christine put together Toujours Balfa in Basile, Louisiana. She sings vocals and plays rhythm guitar.
Her CD, Christine Balfa Plays the Triangle (2008. VAL-CD-0006 – Valcour Records) contains 13 selections, each a triangle solo. At the time I didn’t know the idea behind this project, but its audacity impressed me. For her solo triangle CD, Christine used and credited a “Vintage 1986 Don Montoucet triangle. To see Christine play and hear her comments about this CD, go to <www.youtube.com/watch?v=hi0BNXmzRis>
Alas, my Dieu Donné Montoucet triangle is of recent vintage, 2006. I’m cogitating on what to do with this treasured instrument since I’m no longer playing. But for now, I keep it close and every now and again, play a note or two, or three, or . . .