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    Harmonikids Sessions for Challenged Youth in Northern Utah

    04 March, 2019

    Gary Allegretto, Founding Director of Harmonikids, provides a Harmonikids session in Northern Utah.

    On March 3, 2019 I brought my Hohner-sponsored Harmonikids session to the Salt Lake Valley Detention Center (SLVDC), In Salt Lake City Utah. SLVDC is a full-security facility designed to rehabilitate troubled youth detained by court order. Such facilities have become among my favorite to provide Harmonikids humanitarian services. Sadly, most of these teens are there ultimately as a result of abandonment, neglect, abuse, or violent childhood environments. Their confidence and self-esteem are likely shaken if not shattered – leaving them feeling broken, hopeless, and trapped. In fact, their nervous energy, tension, and apprehension was quite apparent as they were instructed to sit at attention for the session - and within minutes, lessons and music made on harmonicas changed all of that. Harmonikids provides youth such as these a healthy and positive form of creative expression and emotional release in this crucial time in their lives. Simply stated, the lessons often become an inspiration for these adolescents to grow, communicate, change, forgive the world – and themselves. The harmonica often becomes a strong but gentle tool to help kids get back on track. Long ago I learned to never underestimate the power of using music and the harmonica as an extraordinary instrument to reach out and make a difference in young lives. I’ll include an excerpt from a letter I received from facility counselor Justin Olson.

    While in the Northern Utah, I was also asked to provide my harmonica education program to 550 rural school children in the Cache Valley School District. Most of the schools I taught were categorized as “Title 1” or “ schools with high percentages of children from low-income families”. I’ve also attached some very joyful notes of thanks I received from teachers and students who enjoyed the session at one of these facilities.

    ~ Gary Allegretto
    Founding director of Harmonikids


    "Gary Allegretto came and taught his Harmonica Program here at Salt Lake Valley Detention Center. The youth were engaged and attentive enjoying learning - not just how to play the harmonica - but some life lessons that Gary was speaking about. These simple but important lessons really hit home with our teens. Everyone had wonderful time as they learned to play actual songs. Among Gary’s lessons to the youth, he teaches them to follow their dreams and passions. Often they are preoccupied with those that are famous. While teaching them to become successful on harmonicas, Gary instructs then to be concerned about becoming good - not famous - and that is accomplished by finding and following a positive path towards their hearts passion."

    ~ Justin Olson, JJS Counselor I, Division of Juvenile Justice Services, Salt Lake Valley Detention Center, Salt Lake City, UT


    "I appreciate you taking the time to come to our school and share your talent with these kids. For some students, this is the only instrument they will ever own because of their low income household. Some students told me they went home and immediately practiced the songs on the paper you gave them and already memorized "You are My Sunshine". Several said they wanted to learn songs to play so they could make family members happy. Several also said they loved how portable of an instrument it is. I have heard harmonicas on the playground being played and they have even brought them to music class, eager to share what they have learned at home. Several students looked up other songs to play and have explored songs that way. One student said you have inspired them to want to be part of a band. And one student has even said that your "train" song is their goal to learn. In past years I have students play the harmonica for our class talent show day. Thanks for all your time and effort in sharing your talent with these students."

    ~ Mrs. Barlow, Lincoln Elementary School (Title 1), Cache Valley School District


    "Thanks for making it out to our school! By interpreting notation and having immediate success in playing music, students feel empowered by their ability to create something they couldn't have done 30 seconds ago. While Gary gets to see this benefit during his time with the students, he doesn't get to see what I, the music teacher of our school, have seen after he has been gone for days. Here are a few examples:

    • The morning after: A 6th grade teacher came up to me and said, "I just heard a student play a perfect rendition of You Are My Sunshine. They must've practiced it all night because it sounded amazing."
    • From the student who was absent the day Gary came: A 6th grader came into my music room with a classmate to get a harmonica and sheet music. When I asked if he needed help understanding the material, he said, "Oh, has been teaching me," after which I see them hover over the new harmonica and get straight to work.
    • A parent on a phone call: "How is it that we got to have this professional come to our school? My kid was telling me of all of [Gary's] accomplishments. This is just wonderful."
    • The following week: "Hey, Mrs. Dayley! Harmonica is my favorite instrument now!" (and this from a successful 3rd year violinist)

    ~ Trina Dayley, Music Teacher, North Park Elementary School (Title 1), Cache County School District