- Associated Press - Saturday, February 14, 2015

AVONDALE, Colo. (AP) - Since the age of 13, Avondale resident Lilian Montez has given her musical talents to the Sacred Heart Church, as both an organist and choir director.

On Jan. 18, Montez, 78, was honored for that lifetime of service to God and the church at a Sunday Mass.

Montez was presented with a plaque, a small toy piano and a lot of good words from parish council president Darrell Contreras.

“Being recognized is fine with me, it’s very nice. But I have never done it for recognition and have never asked for it,” she said. “I’ve done it all these years because I love music and want to honor God.”

Montez said music has always been a part of her life. At age 7, she was gifted with a piano by her parents. After a friend showed Montez some basic chords and scales, she quickly adapted to the instrument.

“I never had lessons until I was in grade school,” she said. “My parents paid 25 cents to the school principal for each lesson.”

As Montez’s skills on the keyboard advanced, so did her curiosity. Knowing that the old Sacred Heart Church in Avondale hosted a pump organ, Montez said she would often sneak up into the loft where the organ sat and play.

“The church was always open,” Montez said. “And since the church had no organist, nobody ever played that organ. I went up there every chance I got. I started by playing the old Spanish tunes my daddy used to sing in the house.”

One day, Montez’s playing caught the attention of the church pastor, Father Morasky, who was listening from the lower level.

“He didn’t get mad that I was in the church playing. He just asked me why I didn’t play at Mass. I told him, ‘Because I don’t know how.’ ” But at age 13, the studious Montez quickly learned.

From playing just two Spanish hymns - “Oh Maria” and “Benedito” at each Mass - Montez quickly progressed to mastering entrance, offertory, communion and recessional hymns.

“It was a combination of improvising, reading notes and playing by ear,” Montez said. “I tried everything because I loved it so much.”

Montez said one of her fondest memories is playing for high Masses celebrated by Bishop Charles Buswell.

“He was very nice to me,” Montez said. “He would tell me which hymns to play and that I shouldn’t be nervous or anything like that.”

When a new Sacred Heart Church was built in 1961, the old pump organ was replaced with a more modern model. And while several organists came and went, Montez remained the only steady player the parish ever knew.

In the 1950s, Montez formed a mini-choir with friends Eddie and Adeline Vigil, musically savvy siblings. With Montez on the organ and acting as director, Eddie on 12-string acoustic guitar and Adeline on vocals, the trio became the church’s first music collective.

As time went on, Montez grew the Sacred Heart Church choir into a large entity - “23 people, mostly women, at one point.” This talented group would sing at Masses and for funerals and weddings.

“I became the choir director,” Montez said. “I got the music together and oversaw the whole thing. I wasn’t playing much organ because I was really enthused by the guitar players, and I wanted them to be the center of it. We had two guitarists, a piano and a harmonica player.

“It was a very unique choir.”

The Sacred Heart Church choir often shared its talents at other churches, including the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Pueblo.

While Montez doesn’t play much organ these days, she does oversee the church choir, which is now made up of four singers and four musicians.

“The boys are such excellent guitar players I don’t feel the need to play the organ,” she said. “I tell them what to play and they do it. I might occasionally play the organ when we are learning a new song.”

Although Montez has tried to retire from her musical position several times, her service and spirit are too indispensable to the Sacred Heart Church family.

“Oh, I’ve quit three or four times already,” Montez said. “But they always tell me, ‘You can’t quit. We won’t know what to do without you.’ So then I come back.

“I’ve always said that when they take me out in a coffin, then I’ll quit. I never get tired of the music.”

___

Information from: The Pueblo Chieftain, https://www.chieftain.com


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