Harmonikids Sessions for Challenged Youth in Northern Utah
18 May, 2017
On March 5, 2017 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 600 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, www.harmonikids.org
"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."
~ Justin Olson, JJS Counselor I, Division of Juvenile Justice Services, Salt Lake Valley Detention Center, Salt Lake City, UT
Thank you again for providing such a wonderful experience with harmonica for our fifth and sixth grade students on March 2nd and 3rd. They greatly enjoyed your presentation and learning how to play the harmonica. I saw and heard groups of students playing their harmonicas at recess on Friday, and they were actually playing the songs that you taught them (not just making noise). Several students who have not expressed a particular interest in music in the past were very attentive during your presentation and were excited to play their harmonicas. Some students also expressed appreciation for the historical connection you provided during your presentation. I’ve included some feedback from a couple of our teachers and several of our students to give you an idea of how they felt about the experience. Obviously, you had a positive impact on our students. Thank you!
~ Delpha Hall, Music Specialist, Wellsville Elementary, Wellsvile, UT
"The biggest thing from my students that I heard is that they LOVED it! The 3 students from my class that weren't here were devastated they missed it! THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU! I feel like it was extremely worth our time and I would have loved to listen to him for another hour!" ~ 5th grade teacher
"When I asked all the kids [what they thought of the presentation] they gave it a thumbs up. And all the students took their harmonicas home so that they could play them! Not one was left at school." ~ 5th grade teacher
"You opened a new door in my life." Mac, 5th grade
"Best assembly ever!" Cole, 5th grad
"I want him to come again." Olivia, 5th grade
"The song You Are My Sunshine had the same effect on my mom as you said it had on your grandpa." Jamison, 5th grade
"It put my baby sister to sleep when I played for her." Mary Jo, 5th grad
"It inspired me to learn new songs on the harmonica." Andrew, 5th grade
"I've learned a Stars Wars song on it." Samantha, 5th grade
"Thank you for everything. I still play it. It’s awesome and I am looking for more songs to play." Jayce, 6th grade
"I thought that it was a fun interactive experience. I learned how to play an instrument in thirty-five minutes and also had a lot of fun." Kylee, 6th grade
"Thank you so much for the harmonica. I thought it was cool when you did the train song. Also I thought it was cool that they found a harmonica 5,000 years old." Hunter, 6th Grade
"I learned a lot. It was a very fun activity and now I can teach all my siblings and I learned how to play an instrument." Emily, 6th grad
"Thank you so much. You are awesome. I learned a lot. Haven’t stopped playing since." Mitchell, 6th grade
"Thank you so much for the harmonica. It was so awesome. You are super funny and cool. You also have a dang good country voice.” Croydon, 6th Grade
"Thank you so much. I learned sooooooo much! I want to keep on learning more. Favorite music instrument ever!" Will, 6th Grade
"Dear Mr. Gary Allegretto, I always thought playing a harmonica would be hard, but you taught it so I understood it well! Thank you!" Alizabeth, 6th Grade
"I really enjoyed being taught the harmonica by Gary. I never knew how fun it could be and now I know how to play the harmonica . . . and not just make noise." Ethan, 6th Grade
"Mr. Gary Allegretto, Thank you for the wonderful time and the harmonica! I really enjoy playing the songs you taught us and my 5 siblings enjoy hearing me play. Thanks!" Emmalee, 6th Grade
"I thought that it was fun how we learned 4 songs in that amount of time! I love the harmonica!! Thanks for teaching us so many things." Allie, 6th Grade