Helping Kids Through Music
A 1982 graduate of
Northern Arizona University, Gary Allegretto is considered one of the classiest acts in the music business today. An accomplished, self-taught blues musician,
Allegretto has performed on stages worldwide and his music has been featured in
films and on television. Though he achieved success as a musician, his real
passion is helping others, and, as the founder of Harmonikids — a charitable organization
that provides children with harmonicas to play — he does that every day.
A path less traveled
Allegretto took a circuitous path to his calling, however. A
forestry major, he was a top performer as an undergraduate student.
“The university is one the finest forestry schools in the
country, and I was very proud to have gone through their program,” Allegretto says.
“It was a very selective process. They chose about 50 of us out of over 500
applicants. I was very proud to graduate from that program, and very proud to
finish in the top of my class.”
Allegretto’s time in the program and meaningful interactions
with individuals with similar interests help him to discover his true passion.
“Northern Arizona University drew a lot of like-minded folks like
myself who were musicians,” Allegretto said. “That brings an opportunity for
interaction — to meet people. I would say that my time in Flagstaff had a
huge influence on my choice to pursue to music.”
Making a musical difference
Allegretto’s foundation, Harmonikids, is a non-profit organization that
provides music therapy to special-needs children worldwide. The Harmonikids
mission is to provide harmonicas to special needs children and teach them to
play simple songs through gentle instruction. This provides both an educational
and entertaining activity to children with physical and emotional challenges.
Allegretto explains he was inspired to begin
Harmonikids after a visit to a hospital in New York years ago.
“I was volunteering at the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Hospital,
and a fellow musician and friend of mine, invited me to New York because he was
the director of the children’s playroom there,” Allegretto says. “He had
companies donate their instruments for the kids to play on. He would play the
piano while the kids banged away on these instruments, and invited me to come
down and join in on these jam sessions. I brought my harmonica, and I noticed
how drawn to it the kids were. After that, I started acquiring harmonicas for
the kids to play on, and then I started working on a method to teach them.”
With a foolproof instruction method combined with the harmonica's
size, portability, and voice-like tone, Allegretto has become a one-man
philanthropic band. His gift helps children find relief from their situation through
the pleasure of learning music.
Demonstrating his commitment to his organization and the children,
Allegretto once visited Houston's Texas Children's Hospital where many of the
youth programs had been cancelled due to a recent outbreak and fears of the
swine flu virus.
"When they asked if I wanted to cancel as well, of course I
said no,” Allegretto says. “We all had a great time and the kids were delighted
with their new-found talent!"
The power of music
Recognized as one of the pioneers in the field of music therapy
for children, Allegretto’s work and dedication reflects both his belief in the
power of music and his strength of character.
“We were doing music therapy for kids before it was a
well-known and established field,” Allegretto says. “It wasn’t easy – it was an
uphill battle, and it still is.”
Although his career took a different path from the degree he
earned, Allegretto still credits his time in Flagstaff as helping him find his
passion for helping others.
“Northern Arizona University was one of the greatest
experiences of my life, and it shaped who I am today,” Allegretto said.