When Linda Paterniti arrived at Lutheran Social Services skilled nursing facility in June 2006, she says she was unaware of life.
''I had no idea where I was,'' she said. ''I didn't know anybody here.''
It was a far cry from the type of person Linda once was.
Linda Paterniti practices in the activity lounge at Lutheran Social Services with the help of Kim Mancino, the facility’s music therapy director.
P-J photo by Dave Emke
After beginning to sing as a young girl, Linda was a member of several choirs including her high school a capella group. Not only did she enjoy singing, she said, but she longed to learn other types of music as well.
''I used to watch all the other girls playing the guitar, and it looked like so much fun,'' she said. ''So I asked my parents to buy me one for Christmas, and they did. It only took me one week to learn.''
She hadn't played for 30 years, though, by the time she arrived at Lutheran Social Services. Even if she had thought about doing so, physical issues would have prevented her from being able.
But now, just four years later, Linda's story is one of triumph and achievement, finding confidence and self-esteem through a talent for and a love of music.
''Music therapy has helped me emotionally and physically,'' Linda said after setting her guitar down during a break from practicing Christmas songs with LSS music therapy director Kim Mancino. ''I've become very courageous, it's made me very confident to be able to perform in front of people, and it's given me self-worth. I feel better about myself.''
A STAR IS BORN
Though Linda joined the LSS resident choir in late 2006, it wasn't until the fall of 2007 that Linda first began music therapy under the tutelage of student therapist Caitlin O'Reilly. The initial focus of their meetings was on singing and breathing, until Linda opened up and told Ms. O'Reilly she wanted to do more.
''I told Caitlin I really wanted to play an instrument, and she started me with the autoharp,'' Linda said. ''I thought I was going to like it, but she brought in her guitar and I so much wanted to learn the guitar.''
Linda's fingers were too stiff at that time to allow her to play the guitar, however, so she continued her therapy work with the autoharp. She progressed quickly with the instrument and her singing improved as well, and soon the idea of showcasing her talents was floated.
With Linda's confidence in herself beginning to grow, the idea of a spring recital for the residents of her floor didn't seem out of the question. But with all the friends and family that also wanted to attend, the intimate recital blossomed into a full-fledged concert.
''We had to move it to our chapel,'' Mrs. Mancino said of the performance, which was originally scheduled to be held in an activity room. ''We had posters, invitations and a photo shoot. There was a reception afterward, and DVDs were made.''
Linda performed several songs for the large crowd that gathered, including two songs she wrote herself - ''Hello, My Friend'' and ''Place Your Trust In Me.'' Soon afterward, invitations began to come asking Linda to perform during activity programs in each wing of the facility.
''Something this little became something quite large,'' Linda laughed.
After all the improvements staff had noted in Linda, both physically and emotionally, Mrs. Mancino was asked to continue working with her as her therapist when Ms. O'Reilly student work ended in May 2008. Since, Linda's star has only continued to shine brighter.
She now reads the announcements on LSS' public address system; she regularly performs at special events for the LSS Foundation, including the Touching Lives Club and the annual Brick Tea event; she has presented at the SUNY Fredonia Music Therapy Awareness Week; she has sung the National Anthem at a Jamestown Jammers game; and she performs often for residents and staff all over the Lutheran Social Services campus.
Linda once again received a guitar for Christmas in 2009, this time after her music therapy helped rehabilitate her fingers to a point where she could play it properly. Working with Mrs. Mancino, she began the process of relearning how to play the instrument she loved. It's just one more musical achievement Linda has made to go along with the physical and emotional growth.
''I've improved my voice and my guitar playing quite a bit,'' Linda said. ''And I'm in the process of writing my third song.''
SHARING HER STORY
The American Music Therapy Association held its annual conference in Cleveland in November, and Mrs. Mancino thought it provided a wonderful opportunity to share Linda's story with an even larger audience.
''Her story is just so incredible,'' Mrs. Mancino said. ''My mind got to racing that Cleveland is just two hours away and we needed to tell her story.''
With the full support of the administration of Lutheran Social Services, a group accompanied Linda to Cleveland for the conference, at which she had the opportunity to share her story and her music with music therapists and music therapy students from around the country and the world.
Though Linda said she felt somewhat nervous the night before as she thought about all the people she would be facing and what she would be sharing with them, when the moment arrived she was in her comfort zone.
''When I got there, I was just myself,'' she said. ''I had no qualms about anything. It just came natural.''
Mrs. Mancino went one step further in her assessment of Linda's performance at the conference.
''She was amazing,'' she said. ''I just stood back and smiled from ear to ear. She was very eloquent in her discussion, very beautiful in her singing, and friendly and open to all the people who stopped.''
Linda said that if someone had told her when she first arrived at Lutheran Social Services as a quiet woman lacking in confidence that she would be so comfortable in the public eye, she would have a simple response.
''I'd say, 'Sir, you're out of your mind,''' she said. ''But I can do it at ease right now, no problem.''
In fact, Mrs. Mancino said, Linda has her own set of ''groupies'' at LSS who probably wouldn't let her stop playing even if she wanted to.
''Other residents, as well as the staff, truly look forward to having her come and entertain,'' she said.
Linda said that following is another driving force behind the improvement music has brought to her life. It has encouraged her to want to look her best each day, she said, and it has helped her to be less reliant upon her wheelchair.
''It makes me feel better about myself that, for once in my life, people want to come and see me,'' she said.