RIO RANCHO — Nicolle Maniaci remembers when she began thinking about being a concert violinist: She was a student at Rio Rancho Elementary, and the owners of Robertson & Sons Violin Shop brought stringed instruments for the students to see “and demonstrated them for everybody.”
She arrived home with her new dream.
“(My best friend and I) went home to our parents and said we want to play the violin, and then we signed up for orchestra at Rio Rancho Elementary, and this incredible teacher, Lois Blackburn – she was the orchestra director – and I think we had orchestra twice a week. So we started in fourth grade,” she recalled. “After a few months, the orchestra teacher told my parents that I needed to have (more instruction) because I had some natural ability with the instrument.
“And my dad said, ‘If she is so natural, why does she need lessons?’ … And Mrs. Blackburn was a lot taller than my dad, and she leaned over and said, ‘Mr. Maniaci, if you don’t get your daughter lessons, I will.’ She was adamant about it,” Maniaci said, laughing at the memory. “So that’s how it all started, between Mr. and Mrs. Robertson and Mrs. Blackburn.”
Maniaci grew up in the City of Vision, then lived on the West Side after she got married, only to move back to Rio Rancho a year ago. She attended Lincoln Middle School after her days at Rio Rancho Elementary and graduated from Cibola High School in 1988.
She teaches orchestra at Bosque School – previously she taught at Eagle Ridge, Lincoln and Mountain View middle schools in Rio Rancho — but being a professional violinist with the New Mexico Philharmonic made her dream come true.
“I definitely said I wanted to be a professional violinist, playing in a professional orchestra,” she said, recalling the day as a fifth grader she was told to write down her life’s ambition.
“It’s pretty interesting that that’s what I wrote and that’s what ended up happening.”
Flash forward to the 21st century, and she was initially a substitute musician in 1995 for the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra, then a part of it in 2000; after it went bankrupt, she earned a role as violinist with the New Mexico Philharmonic.
She’s played “with” the Beatles – the NMPhil provided great sound for the April 2022 “Magical Classical Tour” at Popejoy Hall by four guys recreating the music and appearances of the legendary “Fab Four” — and also backed Yo-Yo Ma, Smokey Robinson and Donna Summer.
Given her “druthers,” she’d happily play nothing but the music by Johannes Brahms; “Brahms’ Rejoice” is her favorite selection, although she confessed to sometimes listening to 1980s rock.
“Basically,” she said, “music fills my soul.”
But there’s more to her life: “For me, everything is about the relationships I have with people,” she said. “I’m the richest person I know when it comes to relationships; I’m just surrounded by the most amazing friends and family. I’m very fortunate – that’s how I judge my wealth, my relationships.
“I’ve just always been about the people – I’m just fortunate to have a great husband, two beautiful kids, and my mom is still alive, and she’s in Rio Rancho.”
In an example of “what goes around, comes around,” Maniaci says she’s hopeful of bringing some musicians to Rio Rancho Elementary, ostensibly to “spark a little interest,” maybe in another little girl who might start dreaming of being a musician when she grows up.
Of course, being in an orchestra gives her untold joy, as does the relationship she has with the other musicians. Audiences, she said, “are always so supportive,” and she hopes Rio Ranchoans will pack Campus Park to hear the NMPhil’s performance, slated for 8-9:15 p.m. July 4 following the Rio Grande Symphonic Band (6-7:30, also in the Sky Room).
Maniaci, the sister of Rio Rancho Public Schools’ Safety & Security Executive Director Sal Maniaci, remembers the NMPhil’s appearance for the 2021 Independence Day festivities in Rio Rancho and the concert in the Sky Room at Campus Park, so she’s looking forward to being there again Tuesday for this year’s concert.
“A big ‘thank you’ to all our supporters,” she said.
She just hopes it doesn’t rain, because of the “large hole in the roof … the instruments cost so much money.”