Love of music helps professor get through hard times

by Desiree Lopez

For Dr. Sesha Wallace, seeing her students give meaningful performances are her best memories and make her happy to be teaching at South Plains College.

Dr. Wallace is from a small town in Texas called White Oak. She graduated from White Oak High School, which had a graduating class that year of only 83 students. After she graduated, she attended Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches and was, at first, majoring in music education.

Right before her third year at SFA, Dr. Wallace had fallen ill and became paralyzed from the shoulders down. According to Dr. Wallace, doctors could not figure out why it happened, but soon found out that she had contracted Lyme disease.

“I was in ICU for a week,” recalled Dr. Wallace. “When I got out of ICU, I had my mom bring my saxophone up to the hospital. I was still paralyzed, but we propped up my arms and the saxophone with several pillows because I wanted to see if I could still move my fingers through some scales.”

Dr. Wallace explained that thinking about whether she could ever be able to play again was one of the scariest experiences she had.

“I had a life-changing experience in the hospital,” Dr. Wallace says, “because at a certain point, they [the doctors] didn’t know if I would ever regain my strength.”

After this experience, she gained a different perspective on her life.

“I thought a lot about what I wanted to do with my life,” explains Dr. Wallace. “We figured out that I would be able to play saxophone again, and so I thought, ‘Do I want to be a band director, or do I want to be a saxophone professor?’

She soon realized that she wanted to become a professor for her instrument and teach others the saxophone. Therefore, she changed her major to saxophone performance.

“The last thing I had to do before I left physical and occupational therapy. and before I was discharged from the hospital, was that I had to actually play my instrument,” recalls Dr. Wallace. “I remember having to go outside and play some etudes and scales for them.”IMG_0405

She returned to college six weeks into the semester, but was determined to finish the semester. She did, earning a 4.0 grade-point average.

As a college student, Dr. Wallace played in the Lumberjack Marching Band at SFA. She also performed in a saxophone quartet and a wind ensemble. There were only four freshmen at SFA that made it to the top ensemble, and Dr. Wallace was honored to have been one of them.

According to Dr. Wallace, she was in a coed fraternity called Beta Omicron Beta for about a year and a half. The fraternity’s whole purpose was to preserve military marching, since a lot of bands now do horse-style marching. She was also a member of the Pi Kappa Lambda honor society.

Dr. Wallace graduated from SFA State University in 2008 with her Bachelor of Music degree after four and a half years, as she did an additional semester toward her graduate degree. She finished her education there summa cum laude, which means she graduated with the highest distinction.

After she finished her bachelor’s degree, she began looking into schools to get her master’s and doctoral degree. She tried to decide between Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge and Texas Tech University in Lubbock. Wallace had a connection at LSU and decided to take a private lesson from a professor in Louisiana. Later, her high school band director, Mark Crim, mentioned TTU and recommended she look into it. She had the opportunity to fly to Lubbock, take a private lesson, and audition at TTU, all thanks to her high school band director, who she refers to as her mentor.20141208-SeshaWallace-498-Edit

While in Lubbock, Dr. Wallace had the chance to meet David Dees, who’s the professor of saxophone at TTU. She would listen to many of his recordings and CDs, but never made the connection until she got there.

In the end, Dr. Wallace decided to attend TTU because she enjoyed Dees’ teaching style, she felt recruited and wanted, and because it seemed like a better fit for her. She graduated from TTU with a Master of Music degree in saxophone performance in 2011 and later earned a doctorate of musical arts in saxophone performance in 2013.

After her master’s, she auditioned for a school in London to get an artist diploma. She spent a week for auditions and was accepted into the school. Unfortunately, it was too expensive to attend, so she stayed at TTU to get her doctorate.

Dr. Wallace had many professional teaching experiences throughout her college career. She had her own studio with about 25 students and has taught many private lessons. She also assisted a few musicians such as Fred J. Allen and Dr. Brian Utley.

After she finished her doctorate, she took a job in Longview, as the woodwind specialist for the school district, Longview ISD. According to Dr. Wallace, it’s a 6A high school, and she went to almost every campus every day. She also taught the beginners in middle school.

“I started a 5th grade class of woodwinds, so flute, oboe,” Dr. Wallace said. “I started those students on their instrument from day one. We would play, test, and assign them their instruments, so I taught them how to start playing.”

She would travel to three different middle school campuses and do sectionals with the woodwinds.

“I love teaching middle school kids,” said Dr. Wallace. “I think they’re super cool.”

During the time she taught for Longview ISD, she was an adjunct for East Texas Baptist University in Marshall, where her high school band director taught.

Dr. Wallace ultimately wanted to work for a college, so she looked for jobs in the area. After applying to a couple of jobs, her professor from TTU, David Dees, sent her an email about a job opening at South Plains College.

“I kind of wanted to move back to Lubbock anyway,” says Dr. Wallace, “because I liked it better out here. All my friends were here, and I remember looking at the job description and thinking, ‘That’s my job. That’s exactly what I want to do.’”

Dr. Wallace felt that SPC was a perfect fit for her and was delighted to have gotten the job.

She has worked for SPC since 2014, and started her sixth year this semester. She started out as an instructor of music and was promoted in 2018 to assistant professor of music.

“Coming to SPC was like a breath of fresh air,” explains Dr. Wallace. “It was a very nice change, and I love this job. It would be really hard to leave, because this is a good place to work, and I like it.”

She teaches freshman music theory for Fine Arts music majors, music appreciation, and when there are enough students, she teaches music fundamentals. She also teaches the small ensembles for flute, clarinet, and saxophone, along with private lessons for woodwind students.

Dr. Wallace and Dr. Debra Gelber, assistant professor of fine arts music and choral director, decided to start the Fine Arts 5K Run at SPC. She also helps with the SPC Band Camp for middle school students during the summer.

She has professional memberships in the North American Saxophone Alliance, Music Teachers National Association, Texas Music Educators Association, and Pi Kappa Lambda Honor Society.

Dr. Wallace has performed across the United States, including Arizona, Illinois, Oklahoma, and at Carnegie Hall in New York.

She has also performed at the World Saxophone Congress XVI, which was an international conference at St. Andrews University in St. Andrews, Scotland.

Music has been very impactful on Dr. Wallace’s life.

“It means a lot, and it’s changed my life,” Dr. Wallace expresses. “Music has kind of shaped the path of my life, and I couldn’t see myself doing anything else.”

Dr. Wallace wants all students to know that they do not have to be a music major to join the SPC Band. She would like to encourage students who want to continue playing, or students who want to learn, to join the band. Instruments can be provided if needed, and scholarships are given to those who participate.

Dr. Wallace advises students to not be scared to ask for help during their educational or professional careers.

“Your teachers are here to help you in whatever way we can,” explains Dr. Wallace. “Whether it’s asking for advice or letting them know that you’re having trouble, we have the resources on campus. If we can’t help, we can send you to someone who can.”