The world-traveling blues musician faced an auditorium full of third, fourth and fifth grade students at Holy Family School in Glendale. “Today is your harmonica birthday. Today everybody learns to play a song on the harmonica,” announced Gary Allegretto, a musician/recording artist and educator who founded “Harmonikids,” a nonprofit organization teaching harmonica to special needs children using instruments donated by harmonica manufacturer Hohner, Inc.“Hold it like a sandwich,” said Allegretto to the students, each having received a new harmonica, which they could keep as long as they followed their music instructor’s golden rule: “No talking or playing while I’m talking or playing!”Allegretto taught the students their first song in 12 seconds: “Shave and a haircut, two bits.” He had the students repeat it while looking at a song sheet with a series of up and down arrows below numbers [representing the numbers above harmonica holes], with up arrows indicating “blow” breaths and down arrows indicating “draw” breaths. Repetition, he explained, builds up muscle memory.“God gives us an amazing instrument, better than a computer — it’s called your brain,” said Allegretto. He next taught the children’s classic, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and, when that was mastered by the group, went on to “You Are My Sunshine,” the favorite song of his grandfather, who gave him his first harmonica as a youngster. The group’s grand finale was “This Land Is Your Land.”Allegretto then led the children in a pledge: “I promise to always make people happy with this harmonica.” He explained a part of that meant “when somebody doesn’t want you to play, you don’t play.” Other tips: Do not eat when playing, and don’t play too hard.Sharing that he had taught the harmonica to child survivors of the 2010 Haitian earthquake as well as children who lived through the 2004 Indonesian tsunami, Allegretto told the students that music, besides being fun to play, “helps people recover from challenges in their life.” He has distributed over 20,000 harmonicas to children all over the world, including teens incarcerated in detention centers, survivors of natural disasters, and kids coping with serious illness.As he told The Tidings before the students entered Holy Family’s auditorium, “I’ve see a harmonica literally work miracles. I’ve seen kids who couldn’t breathe out of their mouth after an operation able to breathe out of their mouth. I’ve seen kids who were blind and with cerebral palsy figure out how to play songs. I’ve seen kids who had severe post-traumatic stress disorder staring at their feet after they lost everything, including their families, start giggling and being kids again.“I think music accesses parts of the soul that the world beats down a little bit,” he continued. “It brings joy back to children and lets kids be kids again in those situations, and, in healthy, happy kids like we have here [at Holy Family] it just brings joy to their lives and shows them a whole new world.”Fidela Suelto, Holy Family principal, told The Tidings that music is important at the school, which has a two-year-old band program and two choirs. This year, the members of the Pueri Cantores concert choir will be going to Rome in December to sing in a Christmas Mass celebrated by the Pope. “Music is a discipline that is very strong here at Holy Family,” said Suelto. Bringing in guest musicians, she said, is inspiring: “It’s always wonderful to have fresh ideas for the students.”“I really liked this session. It was fun,” said fifth grader Abigail Roxas.“The class today was nice; I learned new things,” said classmate Giulian Pisua, who was familiar with a harmonica but had never played songs on it.“I thought this was a really educational and inspirational class,” said Wes Manginsay, fifth grader. “I love how he compared it to different things in life and how he gave us back stories of places where he went. He kept it simple, and I love how he gave us a harmonica and a booklet to help us learn.”For more information on musician Gary Allegretto, a 2011 “Keeping Blues Alive Award” recipient, visit For information on his nonprofit, see {gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/0705/sfhf/{/gallery}