Joyce Coronel/CATHOLIC SUN

Jaime Cortez relishes his role as music director for St. Bridget Parish and music teacher at Queen of Peace School in Mesa.

Your Catholic Neighbor: Jaime Cortez

By Joyce Coronel, The Catholic Sun

May 17, 2007

MESA &emdash; Jaime Cortez' eyes light up when he thinks about the time he first fell in love with music. The St. Bridget music director for the last 18 years, Cortez grew up in El Salvador and remembers being completely fascinated with music when he was just 4 years old. By the time he was 5, he was operating a record player, mesmerized by the melodies.

El Salvador was in the midst of a bloody civil war during Cortez' high school years.

"Some of the militias were recruiting kids, sometimes even forcing them to join, plus there was just the general danger of getting shot," he said. "It was a difficult time in El Salvador."

His parents decided to send him to the United States to finish his education. Cortez landed at Seton Catholic High School in Chandler, a good fit for the exchange student, given that all his previous education had been in Catholic schools.

Later, at Arizona State University, he settled into his studies as an engineering major. After four years, however, Cortez realized that what he really wanted was to devote himself to music. "The longer I lived in this country the more I saw the opportunities musicians have," he explained.

He graduated from ASU with a degree in music theory and composition. The rigors of engineering school had their influence, nonetheless. Cortez is a man who seeks perfection, both professionally and personally. "I'm driven," he laughed, "my weeks are like hurricanes."

The whirlwind of activity is because in addition to his work directing music at St. Bridget Parish, Cortez wears several other hats. He's the father of three sons, all of whom attend Queen of Peace Catholic School where he's the music teacher for the first- through eighth-graders and directs the school choir.

Cortez also travels about the country twice a month on behalf of Oregon Catholic Press giving workshops on music ministry and multi-cultural communities.

"I show them the resources available so they can come up with a good worship program," he said. The trips usually begin with a Friday-evening concert. Cortez' wife and sons, all musicians themselves, occasionally travel and perform with him.

St. Bridget parishioners see this Von Trapp-like family in action every Sunday at the 11 a.m. Mass. Kari Cortez, married to Jaime for 14 years, is an accomplished vocalist and all three of their sons, ages 7, 11 and 13, play various instruments.

"They can even sing in three-part harmony," Jaime noted, though they don't do so at Mass.

Cortez squeezes in time for his own dance band that grabs gigs at parties and weddings. He writes and records his own tunes as well. His seventh CD, "Adviento," a series of bilingual and Spanish songs he's written to celebrate Advent, debuts this June.

What do you love about being Catholic?

"For me, it's about the power of ritual action, the moment in which time stands still when you're worshipping well."

What impact does your Catholic faith have on your work?

"My Catholic faith affects everything about my work, how I treat my kids, everything. The Catholic faith helps you to be much more in tune with humanity. When you have Christ as a model, you have a lot of wonderful tools to be able to develop your work in a Christ-like manner."