This winter holiday, while friends and classmates are shopping and catching the December film fare, Brenda Jones is spending her time playing one of two grand pianos that take up most of the living space in her parents' home.
Jones is preparing for the biggest musical performance of her young life. On Jan. 6, the 17-year-old senior from Esperanza High School will travel to Miami to compete for the prestigious title of Presidential Scholar of the Arts.
The annual competition, sponsored by the National Foundation for the Advancement of the Arts, allows young poets, writers, painters and musicians in their senior year of high school to vie for college scholarships.
Jones is one of only four pianists in the competition. The winners in Miami not only receive scholarship money, but they get to go to Washington to meet and perform for President Clinton.
"It's pretty exciting," Jones said, "but it hasn't really hit me yet."
Right now, she said, she is focused on perfecting the five pieces she will perform in Florida.
Jones became interested in piano more than 10 years ago when her older brother Bryan began lessons.
"We noticed that Brenda paid a lot of attention to what he was doing and then started copying him," Brenda's mother, Gloria Jones, said. "So we decided to get her lessons too."
Music has been a big part of her life ever since.
When the family moved across the country to Yorba Linda in 1986, one of their first tasks was to find a good piano teacher for Brenda. And since she took up music, she has had to stay away from sports for fear she would injure her fingers.
She never thought of the long hours of practice and giving up things like sports as sacrifices because she loves to play.
"It's an outlet. This is the way I express myself," she said.
Jones said she was undaunted by the prospect of competing with other talented pianists because performing has always been her strength.
"I really like to perform. All the practice is worth it because you get to perform," she said. "Sometimes I get nervous just before I go on, but as soon as I sit down it goes away."