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Merry Christmas to all!

Once again, I've made it through another seemingly grueling marathon of masses and parties during the Christmas season. The truth is that Christmas brings the best in everyone and I'm no exception.

In spite of the killer schedule, all things were done in the Spirit of love and peace, which is what should happen. God walks among us and we rejoice because we can take part in it.

December is a very busy month for musicians. As the music teacher at Queen of Peace School I had to rehearse the entire student body for the School Christmas play. This year it was simpler than last year and I worried that it would be disappointing for the parents, but the opposite was true. Everyone loved it! They were especially delighted to see the whole student body join in on stage and sing a medley I had arranged for them.

The teachers designed a very Spirit filled play with scripture proclaimed, advent candles lit and, of course, songs sung. It was beautiful.

As the music director at St. Bridget Church, we polished Advent music and I designed an Advent Litany for the beginning of each mass. This will be part of my new collection due out next year. We also got ready for Christmas and practiced our favorite carols.

As a band leader I played for a couple of wedding receptions and Christmas parties. These are particularly fun because I get together with my wife Kari and with my dear friends Phil, Ed and Leon and we let loose and rock and roll. It's exceptionally beautiful to hear my wife sing the Christmas Song and I'll Be Home For Christmas at these gigs. She has the perfect voice for these songs. She also plays tenor saxophone and at this kind of parties it's great to hear her play. Our band is called Harmonic Factor (worst name ever) and we have played together for over 10 years.

The gigs were great and we had a good time playing.

Then there are the Christmas parties; one for the teachers at the school, one for the St. Vincent de Paul office at St. Bridget, one for the staff at St. Bridget, one for the neighborhood, there's always a couple with friends and colleagues. Sometimes you are too tired to attend but you want to be supportive and I had told myself I would be supportive this year and attended all of them no matter how tired I was.

Finally, there was the Christmas weekend. Once you get to this point, all you can do is rejoice and get into the Spirit of the whole celebration. My (wonderful) sound person at St. Bridget, Marty Pietz, is a great inspiration of professionalism, stamina and good vibes.

He has worked so much in sound production and television. He's great to be around. You can learn many things when you spend time with Marty. His gift to St. Bridget is his time and knowledge to improve our sound; To me, there is no greater gift and I am so grateful for his help.

On Christmas Eve, Marty and I and Cheryl, one of our teen volunteers were at St. Bridget at 10:00 a.m. to set up for the first Christmas mass of the evening. Our church can seat about 600 people comfortably. The 4:00 p.m. mass on Christmas eve is always the most attended and the only place we can accommodate everyone is outside on the plaza where we had 1400 people!

The St. Bridget Youth Choir (2nd grade to 6th grade) sang and helped to make it a most beautiful Christmas celebration.

The next mass was at 6:00 p.m. inside the church, with music led by our teens. Our teen orchestra played, which is violins (I and II), violas, cellos, flutes and clarinets. We also had teens lead in song and cantor the psalms and Eucharistic Prayer. They also are terrific and make me very proud.

Our other 5 masses were done by our adult choir which I call the "Weekend Choir." They split up into separate groups and we had about 15 people for each celebration. There is also a bass player and drummer at every mass and a guitar player for some.

I play the piano. This year we also hired 2 professional trumpet players for these masses just to add a touch of class. The masses were all beautiful and they each had their own character depending on who attended.

Even though I played for 7 masses total, it seemed to go by very fast and all of them were filled with the right Spirit. The only one that was hard to play was the 7:30 a.m. on Christmas day because I had to leave my wife and children at home with an ocean of wrapping paper all over the floor.

Which brings me to the Christmas gift that I appreciate and treasure the most! My family.

Through this whole month I have witnessed the increasing excitement of my three boys as the coming of Christ approaches and jolly Ol' St. Nick visits our home.

Having little kids at this time is the best. Dreams and fantasy mix with love and good will and our children become so radiant and so giddy that they really make the season for us adults.

Several years ago, my friend Bob Hurd and his wife Pia gave my children an Advent calendar and it has become a tradition in our family to place the calendar in a prominent place and let the kids take a turn at flipping the respective page open as the big day approaches.

The presents I received this year were great but the best gifts of all are the simple ones that cannot be bottled or packaged. I loved shopping for my wife, I always do, laughing with her as we shared shopping suggestions and wrapped gifts. I loved that she and I were able to meet at the school as we helped with the parties for the kids.

I loved playing music with my band mates. They always keep things fun and challenging at the same time.

There are two people who made a big difference in my life this year. One is my friend Kim Lemieux who runs this website. She is in a good place in her music ministry life these days and has decided to share her wisdom and her talent with me in order to help me become a more successful musician. The other one is Andy Andino who is sharing his expertise and his wit in order to help me improve my writing and recording skills. I'm so grateful for these two people and their families because they possess gifts that I don't have.

Another gift that I have is my parents and my mother-in-law within a one-mile-radius. They fill our lives so much bringing wisdom, support and love to us always. This is such an important gift for our children too.

Another wonderful gift was that Kari, the kids and I volunteered to share some musical cheer with the folks waiting in line at the post office downtown. Each one of us featured our instruments and played some solos and we also did a few pieces as a group. My favorites were when Kari played the tenor sax and when we harmonized to Angels We Have Heard on High.

One of my special gifts this year was to receive cards of appreciation from my students and Orchestra members. To read their appreciation for my work (which was unexpected) was one of the most encouraging things I experienced this year. Sometimes you feel like you do not make any difference at all, but reading their wishes and thank-you's was a delight for me.

And finally, there is the gift of waking up on Christmas morning and being led by our children downstairs to see what St. Nicholas has placed under our tree. Kari and I just take a seat and shoot pictures and delight at our children as their faces light up and they open gifts in their pajamas and enjoy the best Christmas ever &endash; until next Christmas.

From my family to yours, Merry Christmas and a terrific 2006!! Stay tuned for more news and music.

Jaime

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