Music, psychology, fiction shape Rochester resident

Oct 24, 2012

You can’t pigeonhole John Wallace. He’s a retired psychologist with theories on a microscope that can look into time, he’s a published novelist and he was knighted by the president of Iceland.

But for the Rochester resident, it’s music that has been a constant theme in his life.

“There wasn’t an awful lot of music in my family,” said Wallace. “When I was very young, I thought I would like to write music. Don’t ask me why.”

Originally from a small town in Pennsylvania, Wallace studied modern classical composers as a kid, even writing Igor Stravinsky’s name on his nametags instead of his own.

In high school, Wallace played several instruments, and when he joined the Air Force after graduation, he had his chance to write music.

“My interest in music was always much more in terms of writing than performing,” said Wallace.

As part of the Air Force Band in the West, Wallace was immersed in music.

“When I got into the service, there was a long period of experimentation. I’d write something and grab four guys and say, ‘How about playing that for me?’”

The jump to psychology came after a fellow serviceman and composer got Wallace interested in the subject with dinnertime discussions about the nature of humanity.

When Wallace left the service, he decided to study psychology. “The next thing I knew, I was working on a PhD,” he said.

Wallace taught psychology for several years in California where he also penned his first novel, a satire on the “exotic belief systems flying around in California.”

“I found out you never really want to write satires that are subtle,” said Wallace. “People believe you’re serious.”

The composing professor continued to work on his music, writing pieces for music groups at the universities where he taught. He garnered knighthood in Iceland after helping the country develop behavioral health programs and wrote several non-fiction books on psychology as well as short stories that were published in national magazines.

One thing Wallace never got around to was an experiment to measure time that he calls his “crazy, exotic idea.”

“What if we could develop a time microscope that would allow us to look inside of a second? What would we see?”

Wallace isn’t planning to come out of retirement to find the answer to that question, but he has continued to write fiction and compose music. Most recently, Wallace composed a piece for the Tri-County Symphonic Band.

“For those of us who write music that’s one of the most exciting experiences—to hear it performed and come alive.”