A Classroom of Students with Formidable Life Challenges - Learn To Play Harmonica


New Castle County's Vocational Tech (NCCVT) School

A Classroom of Students with Formidable Life Challenges - Including a Deaf and Blind Youth - Learn To Play Harmonica.

On February 25th through the sponsorship of Hohner, I brought my Harmonikids program to New Castle County's Vocational Tech (NCCVT) school for the "severely disabled" in Wilmington, DE. The school is within several miles of where I went to grade school in my youth, so my mission to reach kids with disabilities in my hometown had a special significance. What was accomplished that day during the session is among Harmonikids' proudest achievements. Remarkably, all 40 of the students present found a path to make music in spite of formidable challenges. Among them, and of monumental note was a student who is both deaf and blind that learned to play music on the harmonica by touch and vibration! Another musically-inspired youth with cerebral palsy literally rose up from his daily challenges to participate. The magic of the session is best shared in the thank you letters I received from the school supervisor David Jezyk, and perhaps best described by program coordinator Deborah Scott; "Music is the international across all intelligence language!  It dissolves barriers of being different and allows students to express themselves. I cannot thank you enough for having such a wonderful program that gives the gift of music to students who do not have many opportunities to feel so free and joyous." Please see the excerpts and read the full letters below.

~ Gary Allegretto, Founding Director of Harmonikids


This is a letter of sincere gratitude for the sponsors of Gary Allegretto and Harmonikids.  I am a Coordinator of a Life Skills program in the New Castle County Vocational School District in Wilmington, Delaware.  We have four county high schools in our district.  One of our schools has a program for students with more severe disabilities and requires more support than other special education students.  It was to this group of students that Gary and his harmonica brought a morning of pure JOY.

Gary’s musical talent is amazing, but his ability to connect with 40 students with disabilities ranging from Autism, Cerebral Palsy with serve mental disabilities, deaf/blind, Attention Deficit Hyper Activity with intellectual disabilities, etc. was magical.  Within 10 minutes he had every student participating.  

We took several pictures and videos we would like to share so you can see and maybe feel the JOY he gave to the students.  I would like to share two experiences that I witnessed.  My student who is deaf/blind at first would not take the harmonica. Then Gary started his magic by playing a song on his harmonica.  I watched my student quickly unwrap his harmonica and while he listened to Gary waved his arms to the beat of the music perfectly in time; he could feel the vibrations.  He could feel the holes on the harmonica and soon he was playing music. It was great to witness this quick transformation.  The other student is my CP student with very significant intellectual disabilities.  One of our goals with him is to have him hold his head up.  He usually has it down and resting on the tray of his wheel chair.  When he first entered the room and before Gary started, I glanced over and sure enough his head was down. His Para held his harmonica so he could reach it, but he seemed uninterested. Then Gary started playing his harmonica.  I saw his head come up instantly!  He took the harmonica from his Para’s hand and waited for the directions from Gary.  His arms were moving to the beat of the music, his face was glowing, and he was smiling. His head never went down during Gary’s presentation to the students. His CP also makes it difficult for him to effectively inhale and exhale.  But not on that day!  He was blowing as well as any of the students making his music and so happy!

Music is the international across all intelligence language!  It dissolves barriers of being different and allows students to express themselves.

I cannot thank you enough for having such a wonderful program that gives the gift of music to students who do not have many opportunities to feel so free and joyous.

Many thanks,

Deborah Scott
NCCVT Transition/Program Coordinator



Dear Gary,

Thanks so much for bringing the joy of music to our students with special needs! It was really inspirational to see so many happy, involved kids.

As the Supervisor of Special Education and a former high school and middle school administrator for several years, I've seen many, many assemblies where guests come to work with groups of students. Mostly, these other assemblies were presentations made to students. The beautiful part of Harmonikids is that it involved students.

Your style is very engaging, especially for our high school students with special needs that you worked with on your visit. This group of students function with special challenges such as deaf/blind. cerebral palsy, autism, and various developmental delays that impact their cognitive abilities. You were able to energize the students because you allowed them to play in the safety of a judgement-free zone. You first walked them through the coordination of the finger placement (not so easy for all of our students to do) and then had them playing simple tunes, all the while building up their confidence.

Weaving together the history of the blues with a life lesson in pursuing one's true passion was the theme that stayed on the surface during your visit. The kids responded so well; not only did I see the joy on their faces that day, but the excitement lasted days after. They are really looking forward to your return back, and I certainly hope that we can twist your arm in that direction.

While presenting before a group of high school students with moderate-to-severe disabilities it's difficult to strike the right balance between talking to their cognitive levels but also understanding that they are 14-18 year old kids. You did a spectacular job of this because you didn't treat them like small kids and you did set clear, high expectations for your outcomes. (Letting them hear how an historic harmonic riff from decades ago still lives in popular rap today was brilliant.)

I'm really glad that our paths connected. I wish you more success and look forward to seeing you again.


David Jezyk, Ed.D.
New Castle County Vocational Technical School District
Supervisor of Exceptional Children and Title 1