Music Stars Making A Social Impact: Why & How Shannon Wallace of Musical Memory Care Is Helping To Change Our World
An Interview With Edward Sylvan
In response to the global virus’ impact on the community I serve, I felt it my honor & duty to create a technologically innovative and accessible way to support, stimulate and engage those who had to tightly remain within the safety of their environments. As a result, on June 1, 2020, I pivoted from my in-person services to launch the first-ever virtual, interactive, live online and on-demand (pre-recorded videos) MMC™ workshop program aimed to virtually serve active adults and those living with all stages of dementia and cognitive impairment, along with their care partners, who live independent, assisted, memory or long-term care lifestyles — — all over the country!
As a part of our series about stars who are making an important social impact, I had the pleasure of interviewing Shannon Wallace, CDP, CDC.
As an advocate for the human’s adventurous and creative spirit through interactive expression and communication, and in response to the global COVID-19 virus’ impact on the community she serves, professional touring, vocal jazz singer Shannon Wallace, CDP, CDC has created the first-ever virtual and interactive, live online and on-demand Musical Memory Care™ workshop program aimed to serve active adults and those of all ages living with all stages of dementia or cognitive impairment, along with their care partners, as well as personal and customized 1:1 workshops.
Wallace’s career spans more than 25 years in international music, marketing, television and public policy/advocacy. She is a Certified Dementia Practitioner (CDP) through the National Council of Certified Dementia Practitioners (NCCDP) in the United States, and is Dementia Care Certified (CDC) through Dementia Care Education.
Musical Memory Care™ can be found at MusicalMemoryCare.com.
Thank you so much for joining us on this interview series. Can you share with us the backstory that led you to this career path?
From fronting 20-piece Big Band Orchestras to singing a Capella, for the past 25+ years, I have been a professional, vocal, jazz singer touring the USA, as well as into parts of Europe and Asia. Passionate about music and the human spirit, six years ago I realized that I wanted to create a more mindful intention behind my music.
It was then that I decided to volunteer my time to sing for seniors — — and it was then when seniors became responsible for changing my career and redefining my life’s meaning and purpose.
As a result, for five years (pre-COVID), I was offering an in-person, interactive, music, movement and memory workshop program for active adults and those living with dementia/cognitive impairment, along with their care partners. The program is called “Musical Memory Care™” (MMC).
Then COVID hit and the in-person workshop experience was no longer an option.
So, in response to the global virus’ impact on the community I serve, I felt it my honor & duty to create a technologically innovative and accessible way to support, stimulate and engage those who had to tightly remain within the safety of their environments.
As a result, on June 1, 2020, I pivoted from my in-person services to launch the first-ever virtual, interactive, live online and on-demand (pre-recorded videos) MMC™ workshop program aimed to virtually serve active adults and those living with all stages of dementia and cognitive impairment, along with their care partners, who live independent, assisted, memory or long-term care lifestyles — — all over the country!
Each workshop involves me and the participants interacting live, together, where we experience full-body movement exercises; memory and hand-eye coordination games; problem-solving games (i.e., mathematics, geography, science and history); humor and interactive, reflective conversation, all set to music and/or rhythm.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career? What was the lesson or takeaway you took out of that story?
For 12 years, I fronted a touring, 20-piece Big Band Orchestra. I enjoyed this work immensely. Dressing up in glittery gowns and singing in front of capacity crowds and bustling dance floors, I enjoyed the glamour of it all.
During this time, and as an extension of the music I performed, I was also anxious to record my debut album but needed some funding to help me do this. As a result, I discovered that my local Arts Commission was offering a large-ish grant to solo artists to help subsidize their projects. I read the required criteria for applicants and I “fit the bill!” As a result, I started to fill out the application. I had relevant and, I thought, compelling answers for every question they asked in their extensive application, except one: ‘How will your community benefit from your project?’
Uh-oh. As a jazz vocalist, the only thing I could think of was….“Well, when they (my community) buy my album, hopefully, they’d enjoy it.” Sooooo…. essentially, I did not have an answer, and therefore felt, in good conscience, that I could not continue to apply for this grant. It was in that experience where I started asking myself the more important question: “How can I bring more meaning to my music for the benefit of others?”
Because my elders have always been ‘my jam,’ I decided to work with seniors. As a master networker, I was aligned (just at the right time) to meet just the right person in the eldercare industry (her name is Rhonda Thiel and we are, to this day, great friends and colleagues), where she championed (and still does) my desire to bring music, movement and mindful brain stimulation to the senior contingent.
Now six years into my new-found purpose in life, my in-person and live online, interactive Musical Memory Care™ workshop program is supported by AARP, Barrow Neurological Institute, my local Arts Commission (I was able to apply for a smaller and awarded grant last year), the Virtual Brain Health Center, and numbers of elder care communities and households.
LESSON: There are gifts to be found in being inconvenienced. My life was too frequently based on glamor, appearance and status. Don’t get me wrong, I loved and still love performing to capacity crowds in concert venues. But because of this provocative question gifted to me by the Arts Commission’s grant application, it was just what I needed to ground myself and get out of my own way, so as to embrace what I now understand as the true purpose of my life’s work. #beofservice #honorduty
What would you advise a young person who wants to emulate your success?
That EVERYTHING in life happens for a reason. When you can understand and accept that there is not one accident or failure in the journey of one’s life, then ALL, despite how inconvenient, is for the greater purpose of you continuing to become your fullest potential.
I contend that we rarely get what we want in life, but rather, we always get what we need. The onus is on us to decipher what is intended for us to facilitate our growth.
So young person…LIVE! Actively participate in your life. Don’t react, take action! Don’t be led…LEAD! We are on this planet to discover, hone and share our gifts and talents with the world, no matter what they are. Nothing changes if nothing changes, so go beyond your personal boundaries and believe in yourself. There is NOTHING you can’t do!
Is there a person that made a profound impact on your life? Can you share a story?
I have been fortunate to have several ‘someones’ throughout my life who have contributed greatly to shaping the person I currently am. Some of those notable ‘someones’ have been my two grandmothers and a dear, wise friend. My grandmothers first:
My paternal ‘grams’ was with me for my entire life up until four years ago, when she passed at the age of 98. She was the peas to my carrots. She taught me how to bake, sew, garden, landscape, craft and how to love unconditionally.
My maternal grandmother passed one year after I was born, but she is the reason for my place on this earth (a story I cherish). She is the Italian fireball that lives and breathes within me and gives me the courage I need when I find myself in doubt.
And a dear, wise friend who is 41 years my senior, has, for decades, shared his wisdom with me about humanity, life, love and letting go. For these three and several others I have not mentioned here, I am grateful!
How are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting causes you’re working on right now?
World Academy for the Future of Women: For the past three years, I have been working with young, undergraduate students (namely women) in both Bangladesh and China through the non-profit organization, the World Academy for the Future of Women (WAFW.org).
In 2019 and before COVID hit any part of the world, I was invited to SIAS University, a liberal arts university located in Zhengzhou, China, a remote portion of the Henan Province of 100 million people. On a U.S. State Department Cultural Arts Grant called “Give Voice to Women Through the Arts,” I was asked to perform, present and teach. Weekly, I spent my time teaching and conducting daily seminars, labs, forums and coaching for and with 191 young university women and men (aged 18–24) on the topics of social justice, gender equality and human dignity. On the weekends, I spent my time traveling throughout the province, speaking to and performing for all-aged audiences.
Upon returning to the U.S. in the fall of 2019, I have continued my coaching and interactions with my students and have also expanded this work into Dhaka, Bangladesh, where I weekly coach six WAFW Bangladeshi students on topics surrounding women’s issues.
Can you share with us a story behind why you chose to take up this particular cause?
It is here where you can see how both elders (seniors) and women have and continue to inspire my journey, whereby both of my grandmothers were and my mother is tenaciously strong. Seeing this strength modeled in front of me at an impressionable age, I very quickly understood its benefits and relative pitfalls. To this day, I see the fruit-bearing importance of believing in oneself and being self-confident. It is this kind of strength and awareness that has facilitated my ability to find and live my own life’s meaning and purpose for the benefit of myself, and most importantly, for the benefit of others — youth and seniors. I believe in me to believe in them.
Can you share with us a story about a person who was impacted by your cause?
The Chinese and Bangladeshi women with whom I work are incredible human beings. It is hard to point out just one who has benefited from my work, as I too have benefited from all of them. That said, one Chinese student comes to mind relative to her relationship with her parents and what she was studying (her major) at school.
In China, students do not typically declare their own major, as their parents, namely their fathers, declare this for them. This is done with society in mind. For example, if there is a shortage of engineers in the country, then the student shall be an engineer as declared by his/her father or family.
On one particular night after class, one of my female students told me that she cannot talk to her family as they do not understand her; and that her father declared her major for her (nursing) and she does not like needles or blood. Causing sadness and frustration, she did not know what to do. After hearing her story, I offered a few points of view that might help her navigate her dilemma, as well as her societal norms.
The WAFW teaches: “Think About How You Think” (because there are always many different ways to think about any one situation); and “Nothing Changes if Nothing Changes” (i.e., How can we get a different result by doing the same thing over again? We must consider taking action by doing something different in order to change the outcome).
After more than one coaching session, this student went home one weekend (she lives on campus) to have an adult conversation with her parents about what she wants to do with her life (she wants to be a dancer). As a result, the student came back to campus the next week with a renewed smile on her face, and told me that she was able to negotiate with her father in order to do what he wanted for a time, and then also and ultimately pursue her own dreams. For this, she felt empowered, relieved and inspired. I commend her and all of the students with whom I have met for bravely going past their own personal and geographic boundaries in order to explore their possibilities. They are all inspiring to say the least.
Are there three things or are there things that individuals, society, or the government can do to support you in this effort?
Relative to my work with international female students, much work has been, continues, and hopefully will be accomplished surrounding ongoing women’s issues. The key, in my opinion, is firstly, awareness (the willingness to hear/listen). Secondly, a spirited determination to take strategic action. This can be accomplished through funding, advocacy and most importantly, mindful and actionable compassion/passion about the prevalent and unceasing issues.
They say “it takes a village,” but all anything needs is one ‘villager’ to inspire the rest — whether that be the ‘village’ of society, government or humanity. We all have a voice; we all have a choice. We all must take action.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started”
Relative to my launching my online Musical Memory Care™ platform (or frankly, anything else I have done):
- Don’t worry about what you don’t know. Don’t let that bog you down. But…. learn about those things you know you don’t know because knowledge is power! (Follow me???)
- In a pinch, don’t fret the details. Just go! You’ll figure it out later when the timing is better to do so.
- It doesn’t have to be perfect.
- Rely on trusted others.
- Let go!
To be fair, I already knew most of these things entered into the necessary pivot of taking my MMC™ program online when COVID hit. However, as a self-critical human, these 5 things weaved their ways in, out and throughout my process and journey, offering friendly, or not-so-friendly reminders.
That said and looking back at any and everything I’ve ever accomplished, advice given can truly be helpful (and I am grateful for every ounce I’ve ever received); but for every one of us, the stove isn’t hot until we touch it ourselves. In other words, we must learn for ourselves and in our own perfect time.
You’re a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Back in the day, I used to think that the world revolved around me (didn’t most of us at one point in time?!). It wasn’t until about seven or eight years ago that I finally realized that I was a part of something far greater than myself — humanity. I didn’t understand then that I was and am now a meaningful contributor to all that we could possibly co-create together in this world.
Given our current times and all of the challenges that are presented with it, it would be to my great joy to help to create a far-and-wide sense of urgency surrounding the need to revisit our ‘humanity’ instincts — that we are for each other. What does that look like? I’m not completely sure, and I ask myself this question every day. But from this little ‘villager’ over here and pertaining to any work that I do these days, I must #beofservice, do because of #honorduty, and #causenoharm — my small contributions to co-creating a more compassionate place on this earth.
Can you please give us your favorite life lesson quote? And can you explain how that was relevant in your life?
My favorite two:
- “We are the company we keep” — this initially was something my mother would tell me all the time as I entered middle school and high school. It was her hopeful intention to ensure that I would not find myself eventually hanging out with a bad crowd (it worked by the way). Since then, I have taken this life’s quote beyond her scholastic intentions and applied it to my own adult life. To date, I do my very best to surround myself with inspiring, generous, brilliant, compassionate and talented people so as to humbly ask them to help me become the best version of myself, every day. They help make me look good!
- “Nothing in life is perfect, except timing.” — This one, although directly unattributable, seemed to have quietly found its way into my journey through simple, practical and daily experience. For example, you’re late for an in-person meeting. You race to your car with two wrong shoes on your feet (literally), and you see that a nail, from that construction zone you drove through yesterday, punctured your tire and you have no spare in your trunk. It couldn’t be a worse time, right?! Well, maybe. But think about how you think! At that moment, that inconvenient pickle you’re in may be the sweetest pickle you needed in order to keep you out of that fender-bender that just happened in the intersection you would have driven through at that time to go to that meeting. Far-fetched? Maybe. Maybe not. You be the judge. My practical experience has told me over and over again that nothing in life is perfect, except timing. As a result, I harvest all the goodies/gold nuggets out of every inconvenient situation that comes my way.
We are blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I truly don’t mean to be greedy, but there are two incomparable women for whom I admire their humanity, compassion, confidence, vulnerability and business acumen:
- Teepa Snow teepasnow.com — Teepa is “the bomb” when it comes to understanding dementia and dementia care. Her company motto is “Because until there’s a cure, there’s care,” and she is known far and wide in the eldercare industry as the expert “go-to” in terms of doing nearly everything right (mind, body, spirit) for loved ones living with dementia, along with their care partners. Her person-centered “Positive Approach to Care” techniques meet the complex and unique needs of individuals living with dementia. Teepa and her incredible company strive to grow appreciation of differences that will lead to better care and support of those living with changing abilities.
A few years ago, I had the great pleasure to witness her in-action at a symposium at which I attended and also presented and performed. She, herself, was inspiring, intelligent (intellectually and emotionally), and a sincere force with which to be reckoned — someone with whom I would treasure sitting down to benchmark how she continues to move the cognitive impairment care needle. Her knowledge and abilities are electrifying. Her business acumen and ability to create awareness and compassion are second-to-none in the elder care industry. I aspire because she inspires.
- Brené Brown brenebrown.com — Brené is also a force with which to be reckoned…and all in the name of self-empowerment, empathy, and the strength that comes with being vulnerable.
My abbreviated edits of her online bio: Research professor at the University of Houston; Visiting professor in management at the University of Texas’ School of Business; Two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy; Author of five #1 New York Times bestsellers; and Host of the weekly Spotify Original podcasts “Unlocking Us” and “Dare to Lead.”
Brené’s incredible way of reaching into the depths of humanity’s core with a loving touch is insightful, compassionate and fierce. She is inexplicably one of those people who can empower others even during their ‘ugly cry.’ As with Teepa Snow, I admire how Brené continues to evolve, staying true to herself and what she believes, all while staying open to all she has yet to discover. She gives freely, openly…generously. I aspire to be so kind. It would be a great pleasure to spend some notable time with her, exchanging ideas, lessons learned, and the possibilities to move a further needle for those we serve during these uncertain times.
As I grow into the large shoes of my strong, female predecessors: my mother, two grandmothers and all the women (and men) who have taken the time to gift me their guidance, patience, and tough love, I positively look forward (and sometimes with despair) to the unknown, the undiscovered, and the mindful contributions I might be able to make.
I continue to learn the hard way (perhaps through stubbornness) that we cannot go it alone. I am and we are at the cusp of that next step of helping to move an important needle in humanity.
I don’t know what I don’t know, but the world is still my oyster.
Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was so inspiring, and we wish you continued success!
Music Stars Making A Social Impact: Why & How Shannon Wallace of Musical Memory Care Is Helping To… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.