Growing up in war-torn El Salvador, local Catholic musician Jaime Cortez never dreamed he would one day stand on a stage before thousands and receive the National Pastoral Musician of the Year Award.
After 30 years composing hymns and leading music ministry in parishes in the Diocese of Phoenix, Cortez was honored with the prestigious award at the National Pastoral Musicians conference in Houston July 14.
With seven CDs published by Oregon Catholic Press, Cortez’s music focuses on bringing together the English and Spanish-speaking communities through bilingual liturgical music. His songs appear in most of the major hymnals in the U.S. with his iconic “Rain Down” still the most popular tune of all.
In an interview with The Catholic Sun, Cortez spoke of the importance of achieving unity of spirit through a unity of voices.
“When you have a community that is divided by a language gap, you have to try to find ways they can achieve that unity by singing,” Cortez said. “Music breaks down barriers.” As a composer who is fluent in both English and Spanish, he’s been able to create music that not only builds bridges across communities, but also catechizes.
“One thing I learned early was that the right music is instrumental in bringing the word of God to the people,” Cortez said. “Many times we learn Scripture through the songs that we sing. For me, it’s really important that the word of God will come alive in our hearts through music.”
Cortez said he got involved with Church music in the Phoenix Diocese during his college years at Arizona State University when a friend invited him to attend the Newman Center.
“I saw all the young people playing music, participating in this life of coming together and singing and having community and I absolutely loved it,” Cortez said. He wound up switching his major from engineering to music theory and composition. Cortez served as music director at St. Benedict for two years after graduation, followed by 19 years at St. Bridget and eight years at Holy Cross where he currently serves alongside his wife, Kari, and three sons, all musicians in their own right.
Fr. Richard Felt, the former pastor of Holy Cross, said Cortez is a man of great talent and faith.
“He loves to serve the community,” Fr. Felt said. “He has a great love for the Lord and dedication to the Church and a great humility.”
Well-known Catholic musician Tom Booth also lauded Cortez’s work.
“Jaime receiving this award is really a big deal,” Booth said, adding that Cortez was selected from thousands of musicians and that his contribution to the diocese and the wider Church is “immeasurable.”
As impressive as receiving the award is, both Booth and Fr. Felt said that Cortez’s most notable accomplishment is being a great husband and the father of a strong Catholic family.
“He is the real deal and I am proud to be his friend and colleague,” Booth said.
Rory Cooney, who once served as director of liturgy at St. Jerome, was named National Pastoral Musician of the Year in 2014.
Other news from the pastoral musicians conference