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.