“I gradually came to understand that music was a community-building exercise, and that got me interested in thinking about the social and community uses of music, and the arts in general," said Gregg Moore, who is graduating Harvard at the age of 59. After, he's headed to California to work with a small nonprofit, the Ink People Center for the Arts, to organize community music and arts events.

Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

Campus & Community

Building community, one note at a time

4 min read

Moore aims to use music and community arts to link disparate groups

This is one in a series of profiles showcasing some of Harvard’s stellar graduates.

Like many of his classmates, Gregg Moore came to Harvard to continue his studies after receiving his undergraduate degree, in his case at Humboldt State University in California. Unlike many of his classmates, however, Moore was in his late 50s when he arrived in Cambridge, with two children old enough to be his classmates.

Now 59, Moore is set to receive a master’s degree in Arts in Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE). He plans to use the degree to foster community arts programs, with a particular emphasis on music education, as a way to bring disparate groups together. It’s an idea, he said, that was developed over 25 years of encouraging the community-building power of music in Europe.

“When I came back to America, I thought maybe this is a place where we can use music to bring people together,” Moore said. “People, whether they’re Democrat or Republican, they tend to like music. And, in a lot of cases, they like the same kind of music. If there was a way to promote this idea of coming together — for instance, in a band — maybe people would get out of their individual silos, start talking to each other, and realize they have a lot of the same goals in common.”

Over three decades in Europe, Moore worked as a professional musician, first in Amsterdam, where he became deeply enmeshed in the city’s alternative music and theater, and later in Portugal, where he learned the tradition of the village band.

“In Portugal, I was impressed with the ability of the bands to bring together whole swaths of the society of the village. You would often see a schoolteacher sitting next to a lawyer sitting next to a field-worker,” he said. “I gradually came to understand that music was a community-building exercise, and that got me interested in thinking about the social and community uses of music, and the arts in general.”

After returning to the United States a few years ago, Moore enrolled at Humboldt State University in California, where he studied everything from grant writing to business administration to organizational communications. It was while he was finishing his degree that the idea of attending Harvard first came up.

A participant in HONK! Festival, an annual event organized by activist bands from across the country, Moore befriended former University of Massachusetts, Boston, professor Reebee Garofalo, who introduced him to Steven Seidel, the Patricia Bauman and John Landrum Bryant Lecturer on Arts in Education and director of the Arts in Education program at HGSE, who in turn convinced Moore to apply to Harvard.

“It was only three weeks before I took the GRE that I realized there was something called the GRE that I would have to take,” Moore said with a laugh. “I don’t know how it happened, but I was accepted into the program, and I thought, this is something I can’t turn my nose up at. So I went ahead, and now I’m down to the last couple weeks of the program.”

With the program wrapping up, Moore plans to return to California to work with a small nonprofit, the Ink People Center for the Arts, to organize community music and arts events. He also plans to take over operation of Humboldt Music Academy, the Humboldt State Music Department’s community outreach program, with an eye toward expanding it to include more adults and more types of music and programming.

“It’s been a fascinating experience,” Moore said of his time at Harvard. “Many of my classmates are young enough to be my own kids, so there’s often a dynamic where I see them as young people. But I’ve learned to be ready when they open their mouths, because something profound is going to come out. In that way, it’s been very encouraging, because for some people in my generation, it can be discouraging sometimes to see how young people conduct themselves. But working with these people has been incredibly encouraging. It really gives you hope for the future.”