Christmas Eve Harmonikids Session to Youth in Detention at Ferris


Christmas Eve Harmonikids Session to Youth in Detention at Ferris

When I entered the facility though double-locking security doors the boy's apprehension was palpable as they were ordered to sit at attention. The tense mood was relieved only slightly as I explained I was a professional musician there to provide a fun session in which they would be entertained, receive harmonicas and learn to play songs. Their strong trust issues produced defensive postures and cold stares - at least until I played a few songs for them - and within minutes the magic of music made on the harmonica changed all of that.
When I passed out the harmonicas and they started to learn to play songs they could hardly contain their excitement. I started with simple and familiar Blues and Gospel songs which they quickly tackled guided by my fast-learn method. The boys wanted to learn more, so I pulled out my sheets for Jingle Bells and Silent Night. Soon there was the familiar cheer of holiday songs in the air. But unlike the festive songs one typically hears on Christmas Eve - this was being played by troubled incarcerated boys who would not be celebrating with their families that night. Further, they had likely never received the gift of a musical instrument from anyone in their lives - let alone experienced the joy that comes from making music on it. They played beautifully. Their faces beamed brightly with the wide smiles that accompany boosted self-esteem and confidence. These young troubled "tough guys" were suddenly just happy teenagers having a great time making joyful music. It seemed that for at least within that brief Christmas Eve Harmonikids session, they had found a way to forgive the world - and themselves. To me this exemplifies the spirit of Christmas and remains my favorite way to celebrate the holiday.

~ Gary Allegretto, founding director of Harmonikids,

A Letter From Ferris Treatment Specialist Supervisor Lester Whidbee

On Dec 24, 2013, at 2:00pm, the youths of Snowden and Mowlds Cottage were once again graced with the presence of harmonica player Mr. Gary Allegretto. Mr. Allegretto stayed true to his word. He returned to perform his musical brilliance by teaching our youths how to play the harmonica. This exciting brand of music was very entertaining and special. The youths accepted Mr. Allegretto’s guidance and instructions during the entire program. First, Mr. Allegretto played several songs for our youths. Then the songs he taught included, “Silent Night, Jingle Bells, Hoochie Coochie Man, Harmonica Blues, Shave and a Haircut, and When the Saints Go Marching In”.

Mr. Allegretto rewarded each youth with their own harmonica. I’m sure that most of our youths first experience with playing a harmonica occurred today. Mr. Allegretto was treated like royalty as each youth requested his autograph after his program concluded. We thanked Mr. Allegretto for stopping by the Residential Cottages. Mr. Allegretto indicated that he’ll return to visit us in August 2014. We will certainly hold him to his word. This was such an enlightening experience for our youths.


Lester Whidbee
Treatment Specialist Supervisor
Snowden Cottage B – Shift