It’s the transformative moments that Nancy Skaliotis will most remember — like a smile sweeping across the face of a young autistic child as his usually repetitive body moves in concert with the notes he’s hearing.
Skaliotis, of Andover, has received numerous music education awards, both nationally and locally, over her 40-year career as a music therapist.
But it’s those smiles, not the awards, that make Skaliotis smile herself.
“So many children are tuned out and we as educators need to check in,” said Skaliotis, who worked for 37 years in the Haverhill Public School System before retiring last year.
Skaliotis was awarded the 2013 Presidential Achievement Award this spring for her work as a music therapist. The award was announced at the New England Region American Music Therapy Conference in Newport, R.I.
She said watching so many special needs children come alive over the years when she set up instruments in classrooms across Haverhill made all that lugging worth it. Skaliotis typically visited 10 schools a week when she was teaching. She admitted that her job could wear her down. But students had a way of snapping her out of any exhausting funk, she said.
“Honestly, I miss my students ... there were short attention spans, behavioral issues and problems with social skills, but a violin or piano or any instrument and the rhythm and melodies they would produce would calm any anxiety.”
She believes music therapy helps students accomplish goals.
“Music is medicine,” said Skaliotis, who lives on Haverhill Street.
Music can also help those suffering from neurological disorders, like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, she said. Skaliotis recently met with neurologists at Yale University in Connecticut who are studying the effects of listening to music on the brain.
“The brain looks like it is on fire ... it reacts when it hears music,” she said.
That musical connection has interested Skaliotis since the early 1970s when she earned a master’s degree in music therapy and dance therapy from Columbia University in New York. She then worked as a consultant and clinician in schools and hospitals before coming to Haverhill in 1975.
Even in retirement, Skaliotis continues to stay connected to her musical peers. She is a board member of the New England Region Music Therapy Association, formerly serving as the group’s vice president.
“Music therapy makes a difference for so many people,” she said.
Noteworthy honor; Music therapist find rewards in healing power of music