WMU News

National spotlight shines on WMU music student

July 24, 1997

KALAMAZOO -- A Western Michigan University music student will be the focus of an eight-minute feature story on the popular CBS program "Sunday Morning" at 9 a.m. Aug. 17.

Shawn "Thunder" Wallace, a saxophonist from Eaton Rapids, will be profiled in a story by jazz pianist Billy Taylor, who is also a correspondent for the program. Taylor has followed Wallace's career for a number of years, but plans to do a story about him didn't emerge until the two performed together in a concert last summer.

Wallace, a junior, is considered one of the rising stars in the field and his personal story is extraordinary. He began studying classical and jazz music with his father at age six. In fact, his first instrument, the alto saxophone, was so heavy for his young hands that he had to build a special stand to hold it. Before he reached his teens, Wallace was composing his own work and performing as a guest soloist with professional big bands. By age 14, he recorded his first album and opened for Ray Charles at a jazz festival. Wallace now has four CDs and a number of awards to his credit. A fifth CD is currently in the works and he has opened or shared the stage with Spyro Gyra, Branford Marsalis and others.

For Wallace, being the subject of a CBS news story was an interesting and in-depth experience. CBS crews spent a weekend at his home, taped him at a jazz club in Detroit and spent an entire day at WMU, where they filmed him performing in a Jazz Orchestra concert, rehearsing with the Symphonic Band and presenting a jazz flute workshop. Crews also followed him around campus, gathering footage of him eating lunch, participating in his Bible study and lifting weights at the Student Recreation Center.

"He's a great student, a wonderful young man and very, very talented and serious," says Trent P. Kynaston, professor of music. "Shawn works extremely hard and I think that's important. Many times you'll get students who have a natural ability at something and they just kind of lay back and wait for it to happen. I don't think he works hard because he's trying to be great. He just loves it so much that he's constantly involved in the music."

In addition to the saxophone, Wallace plays numerous other instruments including the flute, clarinet and piano. He also sings. Wallace says he plans to attend graduate school and eventually become a teacher at the college level.

"When you teach somebody, you've just changed that person's life forever," he says. "It's an awesome power to make someone understand something that they didn't understand before."

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