This week, our spotlight is on Maria Nichta! Maria is one of our wonderful Music Therapists who provides Hospice and Bereavement services through the Songs of Hope program, teaches music lessons (adapted and otherwise), and works with adults and older adults at a day program. She also works with veterans at the VA and through the Wounded Warrior Project as both a Music Therapist and a Community Support Specialist. Why don’t you tell us a little more about you, Maria?
Where did you grow up / go to school?
I was born and raised in Cleveland, OH (the East Side!). I’m a Midwestern girl at heart. I went to Beaumont School for high school, and was deeply shaped by a few of my teachers there. I love Cleveland and the people there, but those winters can be brutal! I always encourage people to visit if they’ve never been. In 2012, I moved to Charlotte, NC for college, where I attended Queens University of Charlotte. I’ve really grown to love the south. Sometimes I sound a little confused when I talk, though – I’ll say “pop” (NOT “soda”) and “y’all” in the same breath.
How did you decide to pursue Music Therapy?
I’ve always loved music, and my mom says I was singing before I could talk. I played the piano and oboe in elementary school, and I started to teach myself guitar in high school. I always knew I wanted to use my passion for music in some way, while also being able to help others. In the span of a few months, both my private voice teacher and my high school choir teacher told me about Music Therapy. So I started researching what it took to become a Music Therapist, and after that, I was determined! It so perfectly combined my passions. It was definitely challenging at times, but I’m grateful to be doing such meaningful work.
Can you tell us a few of your favorite Music Therapy stories? One funny, one touching?
One of the funniest Music Therapy memories I have took place at one of my practicum sites in college. It was right around Halloween, so I planned a dancing activity for my session with kids. Since it was Halloween, I obviously decided to do “Thriller” by Michael Jackson. I was rushing to get to the session and downloaded the song to my phone right before I left – I had no service at the school, so everything had to be downloaded beforehand since I couldn’t access the internet. Everyone was so excited to hear “Thriller” when we started, but a little over a minute into the song, I realized I downloaded a version that was ONLY the background music. Once I realized this, I started singing to distract from my mistake. I kept leading as if nothing was wrong since we were in the middle of the activity, but I was so thrown off that I forgot half of the words to the song! I laugh every time I hear “Thriller” now.
I feel lucky to have so many touching Music Therapy moments, but one of the most touching memories I have was during my internship. I provided music therapy for a patient for just over 5 months, almost during my whole internship. There wasn’t really one specific session with this patient that stood out, but just my experience with him as a whole. He was unable to speak, due to having a trach in his throat. Even though he was unable to speak, we developed a strong rapport. He passed away just a week before my internship ended, and I think that music therapy brought him so much in his last few months of life.
What song is stuck in your head right now?
“Rainbow” by Kacey Musgraves. She just released her new album Golden Hour at the end of March and I’ve been listening to it non-stop! I’m not even a huge country music fan, but this album is turning me back into one.
If you were an animal, what would you be and why?
I’d have to say a Golden Retriever. I rejected this at first when friends and family said this about me because I felt like it was cliche, but I’ve come to happily accept it. I’m a very loyal, loving, and happy person – if I had a tail, I think it would always be wagging. I’m energetic and I really love to be around people. I’m a very animated person and am easily excited about virtually anything and everything. But, like Dug from Up, I sometimes get distracted and sidetracked (“Squirrel!!!”) when my brain jumps from one thing to the next quickly. I talk a lot and can be pretty persistent (like a dog saying, “Pet me! Pet me! Pet me!”), but at the end of the day it’s because I just love people so much! And I want them to know that.
If you could give a stranger an encouraging word, what would it be?
I would say, “You are enough. Exactly as you are.” This is something that I have to remind myself, time and time again. Yes, you should challenge yourself and strive to keep improving. But cut yourself some slack! You’re human. You’re going to make mistakes, you’re going to be late sometimes, and you’re going to forget that thing that you swore you wouldn’t forget! You might not feel like you’re good enough, or smart enough, or strong enough, or whatever else. But you are enough. Yes you, human who is currently reading this. You are enough. Go look yourself in the mirror and tell yourself that! And imagine that I’m giving you a big hug (or a friendly pat on the back, whatever you need)!
Maria, thanks for all that you do!
You are a bright spot to our team, and we’re so thankful to have you around!