Family of Musicians

My interest in music came about when I use to pick up my dad from the local bars. Mom was making dinner and she didn’t want it to get cold so she sent me to let him know. While I was there the juke box was playing great sounds from Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller. Dad would set me down and buy me a hippo size soda. We were late for supper all the time.
You might say that I grew up in the forties listening to my uncle playing guitar backup to the big band music on the record player. I loved that music but as I turn into my teens I listened to Scratch Phillips on my radio playing rhythm and blues late at night. My mother would come in and ask me to turn that “devil” music off. Later on, that music turns into “rock and roll”. I was not into that genre but instead listened to “pop” music like Perry Como and Joni James.
When I was attending church at Immaculate Heart of Mary, I listen to the beautiful organ music coming from the choir loft and wished that I could be up there singing. It so happened that one day, one of my friends invited me to go up to the choir loft. It had an old large organ with the pipes going all the way up to the church ceiling. The organist, Maria Uribe, immediately gave a large music sheet with Latin lyrics. At that time the Mass was sung in Latin and the priest would celebrate the Mass with his back turned toward the parishioners. I didn’t know my singing voice so I just followed along.
We practiced the hymns in the choir loft in the evenings when no Mass was being celebrated. I didn’t know how disciplined she was in practicing the music for the Mass. We learned four different Mass for each liturgical season which was difficult for me. Eventually I learned that I was a baritone. All the others were tenors and sopranos. I was placed as a second voice singing bass.
Later on we moved from the choir loft to a very small room that looked like a walk in closet. This was where the resident priests stayed. This was in a building in the back of the church. We practiced there until I graduated from high school and joined the military.
During my time in the service, I wasn’t interested in singing due to my duties and barely had time for church. However, in 1974, when I was stationed in Bad Kreuznach, Germany an American Catholic chaplain invited me to start attending church. I was by myself and living in the barracks because my wife was expecting and couldn’t join me until after the birth of my third child. I started to be more involved with the church and also attended a retreat which changed my life completely. I also became a CCD teacher and later the director of religious education (DRE). Thus began my return to the church and singing career when he invited me to join the choir.
My family, when they arrived, join me in all the religious festivities which I had not participated before my conversion and return to my Catholic faith. We would spend a year and a half before they had to leave because of a death in the family.
When I rotated back to the states, I was stationed at Ft. McNair in Washington D.C. I couldn’t find housing for a year so my family had to stay home in San Antonio.       Meanwhile I was attending Mass at Ft. Myers, Virginia. I enjoyed the way the choir was singing with electric guitars, flutes and base guitars. Quite different from organ music. I asked to join the choir and after I auditioned, they let me in. I was singing in my usual baritone voice. I was surprised that we would get a standing ovation after the Mass. At one time we were asked to sing at a festival the church was having. We sang traditional Broadway songs. At another time we sang for a private celebration and we were paid for it.
With my family coming to Washington D.C in late August of 1977 and finally finding quarters right inside Ft. Myers, we had the most enjoyable time touring the various famous places in the Washington area including Virginia. However, my time for retirement came and we moved back to San Antonio.
After my retirement and with nothing to do, I went back to Immaculate Heart of Mary church and rejoined the choir. I found that things had changed. The Mass was now sung in Spanish and had Mexican type mariachis music playing the Mass. The choir had moved from the choir loft to downstairs in the front pews with the parishioners.
What was most unusual was that the members of the choir who were there in 1958 when I left were still there. A little older but with the same sounding voices. Maria Uribe had retired and left her son, Carlos Macias, in charge. It took a while for me to understand and sing the lyrics in Spanish.
I spent almost ten years with the choir at Immaculate Heart of Mary church before I realized that my children were growing up and attending St. Michael’s Catholic church which was across the street where we lived. I started going there and after a while started to join the English choir there. I later moved to the Spanish choir.
In retrospect I come from a long line of musicians in the Cortez family. Starting with my grandfather who played the mandolin in a folkloric orchestra which went on to become the San Antonio symphony orchestra, my uncles who played the guitars and also played in an orchestra and with trios. My dad who played the harmonica and dabble with a bass guitar, my cousins in Mexico who compose music and my son, John who plays the bass guitar in a local band and my daughter, Marie who played the flute. Including my grandchildren playing violins, trombones and tubas.
This is my musical heritage and I am very proud of my family and I am blessed to have them in my life.

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