For Josh Wallace, there are three things he considers central to his identity: Being adopted, a musician and a BYU–Hawaii alumnus. Wallace shared how being a “Seasider through and through” has influenced his experiences following graduation, including performing around the world and reconnecting with his birth parents.
“I love that campus. I love everything it stands for. I love all of the flaws too. I know it’s not perfect ... The direction and the hope it brings to everybody who goes there, if we can all strive to become those people every day, even after we’ve gone, I really feel like then we’ll be seeing mighty miracles in our own lives and the world.”
Jamming in unexpected places
While studying at Berklee College of Music in Valencia, Spain, Wallace and his wife were contacted about joining a talent show competition similar to “America’s Got Talent” but for the particular region they lived in. The show aired on TV as “Family Duo” and the couple won second place overall.
Wallace explained they did not take the show too seriously at first because his wife was in the middle of her master’s program, and they decided together they would “just do it and have fun.
“And as we were having fun, we kept getting further and further along in the show,” added Wallace. “Then it was the semifinals, and then the finals. We were like, ‘Well, we’re still in this. We actually have a shot of winning 10,000 euros. Maybe we should get a little more serious.’”
Wallace explained even with his wife’s fluency in Spanish, a lot of their time on the show was spent nodding, smiling and saying “Gracias” because the judges were all speaking in a dialect neither of them understood. Although they did not win first place, Wallace said it was an incredible experience he was grateful to share with his wife.
After moving to California in January, another unexpected opportunity presented itself as a spot to be a musician on a McDonald’s commercial for the new “Trolls: World Tour” movie. This popped up on a group chat that connects alumni from Wallace’s grad school living in the Los Angeles area. When he noticed one of the slots was for a ukulele part, Wallace said he decided he would give it a shot.
“I got an email saying that we got the spot, and the pay doubled, which was great. And now I guess my ukulele is being heard all over the world in a bunch of different languages for a McDonald’s commercial.”
Wallace added the ukulele is not his primary instrument, and he was shocked, but grateful for the opportunity. “I consider it a huge blessing. It was a cool opportunity to take a little bit of Hawaii with me and share that, and now everyone can hear it.”
Finding his roots
Wallace explained he met his wife at BYUH. They were both adopted through Family Services, a private nonprofit corporation owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Wallace said he asked her on a date to get to know more about her adoption story.
A BYUH alumnus and Wallace’s good friend, Ninoy Kusuma, shared Wallace was very open about being adopted.
He further explained, “What I know is he’s not someone who complains too much ... He always tries to be open about everything, if you ask him.”
Kusuma said he remembers Wallace telling him he was going to go after Kei, Wallace’s now-wife, when she returned to the BYUH Salsa Orchestra. After a school music trip to Japan, Kusuma said he noticed the two of them began dating.
“I became really good friends with them, and I even got the chance to be one of their groomsmen. It was a lovely experience for me to see them finally get married in the temple in San Diego. They are both just perfect for each other.”
After graduating and getting married, the two moved to Spain, and Wallace said he started having trouble sleeping at night. He explained he kept getting the feeling that he had to find his birth parents. So he went online and was able to find his birth mother, and from there, he connected with his birth father and some half-siblings.
“Reconnecting with my birth family wasn’t really on my radar. I kind of felt like I would find them one day, but I didn’t know it was going to be while getting my master’s degree.”
Within a year and five months, both he and his wife were in touch with their birth parents. Wallace said reconnecting with them has been a positive experience, and they are still in constant contact with them today.
Using music to unite
Darren Duerden, a professor in the Faculty of Culture, Language & Performing Arts, said Wallace studied percussion with him during his time at BYUH and played
an important role in the university’s steel drum band, Shaka Steel, as well as the Salsa Orchestra. Duerden said Wallace was a very “multi-talented musician.
“I have nothing but respect and admiration for Josh and his wife, Kei. They’re great people. They represent BYU–Hawaii very well. I love the positive attitudes that they have.”
Duerden said he has followed their progress via social media, including watching live stream performances they do together and listening to the original songs Wallace has written.
“They make themselves visible on social media. They’re always uploading positive messages and performances of themselves. They make their presence of goodness belt on the internet ... You just never hear negative stuff coming out of their mouth in any format.”
In addition to percussion, Duerden said Wallace had a knack for songwriting. “He had the most amazing set of entertaining skills. He was kind of a born entertainer. When he took the stage, you just wanted to watch him.”
Kusuma, who was also a part of Shaka Steel and Salsa Orchestra, said he and Wallace worked as drummers together at the Polynesian Cultural Center for a time and noticed Wallace’s natural ability to laugh and joke.
“In our ensemble class, he would always help the group to have more fun with the music... In every salsa concert that we had, he was actually the first person to play and dance at the same time.
“And when we would look at him, we just wanted to dance too. But he was always the first person to do it, and everyone would follow. He was the light of the group.”
Duerden added Wallace was always the life of the party when he attended BYUH. “He does have a very infectious laugh, and he’s fun to be around. He would always play ukulele and sing. He has a really rich storehouse of songs at his disposal.”
Wallace said he sees music as a tool that can be used for good and bad, but he has always tried to use his music to point others toward “light and truth” and “happiness and positivity.”
He added he has always leaned towards more positive music and described his music tastes as “unique.”
Attending BYUH, Wallace explained, opened up a whole new world of music for him. Having been classically trained in his youth, Wallace said experiences at BYUH introduced him to salsa, Latin, Jazz, Polynesian and Tahitian music, and also added drums to his repertoire.
“It helped me to understand what I feel like my calling is, which is to make music that is more geared toward the masses. [Music] that’s fun, danceable and lively but is still positive.
“I’m forever grateful for my time at BYUH, especially [with] the Music Department,” said Wallace.
He explained music doesn’t necessarily have to be deemed “church music” to bring the Spirit, and added he had many experiences with songs that have touched his heart. An artist who has been influential in his life, despite differences in beliefs, is Bob Marley.
“[Bob Marley’s] faith system isn’t something that I 100 percent agree with. But a lot of his messages were about unity, love, positive thinking and trusting in the higher power to deliver us – and just being happy and not worrying. I find music like that in lots of different genres, inspiring my wife and me to create music that’s geared in that direction.”
Passing on positivity
Wallace said since graduating from BYUH, all he feels is gratitude. “It kind of goes back to BYUH’s ‘Enter to Learn, Go Forth to Serve,’ being ‘genuine gold’ and standing out.
“I really feel strongly that ... all the things that have happened to me happened because Kei and I went there.” Wallace said a major reason he chose to come to BYUH was President David O. McKay’s vision for the school.
“My time at BYUH was some of the most precious time where I was able to learn ...[that] being able to serve our fellow man is one of the most beautiful things that we can do.”
Wallace explained BYUH taught him how to serve people of all backgrounds and beliefs. “At the base of it, we’re all the same, and I learned that at BYUH. It’s helped make service a lot easier and more rewarding for me.”
At the base of it, we’re all the same, and I learned that at BYUH.
Wallace now works as a music teacher for Fusion Academy, a private school in California. Despite not expecting to teach until he was much older and hoping he would have more experience in the industry first, Wallace said he does not regret it at all.
Wallace added he hopes to steer his students to create positive music that tells a story and captures real emotions.
“I’m able to serve every single day. I’m able to teach youth and the next generation of artists and songwriters to love music and to help foster their passion for music.”