Skip to main content

Mindful Music with Karl Shallowhorn

May 5, 2023

Just like everyone has mental health, everyone is connected to music. It can be a powerful tool to express and support mental health.

Karl Shallowhorn, M.S., CASAC, has worked professionally for over 30 years in the fields of addiction counseling, mental health advocacy, higher education, and leadership development coaching.

Karl’s journey has had many challenges. But one thing was consistent—his love for broadcasting and music. Now, he has taken the chance to explore how music can support mental health. 

Introducing Mindful Music. Every Saturday starting May 6, 2023, 88.7 FM WBFO, Buffalo’s NPR station operated by Buffalo Toronto Public Media (BTPM), will host the podcast.

Featuring guests such as Dr Pierluigi Mancini, Incoming Chair of Mental Health America Board of Directors, and Zamir Gotta, Anthony Bourdain’s travel companion on the Travel Channel TV show No Reservations, the podcast examines how songs affect their mental health and how listeners can do the same. We sat with him to learn more.


Can you tell us about the podcast and how it started?

Mindful Music is a radio program that explores the universal themes of mental health and music. The genesis of the program goes back to the beginning of the pandemic when I would share videos on Facebook, simply calling them “My Mental Health Soundtrack for the Evening.” Jennifer Parker, a Buffalo-based PR and marketing professional suggested that I create a radio show or podcast. 

At first, I scoffed at the idea, thinking that it would be too complicated to produce a podcast. But then I reached out to Jamil Crews, of Crews Control Media, who had his own studio, and I started a Spotify podcast called Mental Health Verses, which eventually moved briefly to YouTube. After a 6-month break, I resumed working on it but modified it for radio and hosted it on 91.3 FM WBNY, the SUNY Buffalo State radio station, where I had worked when I was a student at the college between 1984-1987 (my undergraduate degree is in Broadcasting). 

The format of the show focuses on my guests sharing 2-3 songs and explaining how these songs affect them mentally and emotionally. I ask them to tie in the music to specific moments in their lives to amplify the significance of how the songs helped them, whether it be as a coping tool, or a means of expressing joy or happiness.

What made you interested in using digital media to support mental health?

I enjoyed this format far more than the podcast. It felt more natural, and I was “running the board” (operating the controls). I have a good friend, James Braun, who urged me to approach WBFO with the idea of doing the show there. As a result, I reached out to Tom Calderone, President and CEO of BTPM in October, and requested a meeting to pitch the idea of doing the show for WBFO. 

Tom and I met, and he liked the idea and handed me off to WBFO’s new Program Director, Tom Berich. We hit it off right away. He loved the concept, and we agreed that launching the show in May, in recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, would be appropriate. Tom and I have been working closely together to plan the program and I have lined up the guests for the first eight episodes, including Dr. Pierluigi Mancini, Board member for Mental Health America, JoAnn Falletta, conductor of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, and Zamir Gotta, Anthony Bourdain’s travel companion on the Travel Channel TV show No Reservations.

In what ways does music impact mental health?

According to a December 2016 online NAMI article, “Music can be utilized to regulate mood. Because of its rhythmic and repetitive aspects, music engages the neocortex of our brain, which calms us and reduces impulsivity. We often utilize music to match or alter our mood.”

Personally, I listen to music as much as I can (in fact, right now I’m listening to an album by a post rock group called Godspeed You! Black Emperor, which is instrumental, rhythmic and helps me to focus). I’ve been this way my entire life. There’s just something about music that I find I connect with on a very deep level, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and even physically. There are some particular songs that literally give me chills when I listen to them.

What song would you choose and why?

There is one song that, if asked, I would share, and that’s Prime Mover, by Rush. It’s a powerful and inspiring song. The lyrics were written by the late Neil Peart, who was drummer for the band. Here are a couple of verses:

From the point of conception

To the moment of truth

At the point of surrender

To the burden of proof

From the point of ignition

To the final drive

The point of the journey

Is not to arrive

Anything can happen

It’s that final line, “Anything can happen” that really speaks to me. This is the song I listened to on January 15, 1988, when I used my drug of choice for the last time after attending my first 12 Step meeting. I’ve carried these lines with me for over 35 years.

Digital media has become an essential tool in raising awareness about mental health. Most of the primary social media platforms are still free (of course, you can sponsor ads). The sheer ability to reach large audiences throughout the world with a few keystrokes is something that never could have been imagined, even 20 years ago

I like to use digital media to promote mental health because it’s relatively simple, especially because virtually anything you want to do can be done from your phone. With their being so many platforms out there, I don’t even use it as much as I could. The downside is that it can be time consuming, especially when you want to keep pushing out fresh content.

How can people access the podcast?

Mindful Music can be heard each Saturday at 4 pm ET on 88.7 FM WBFO (online or streaming on the WBFO app) and anytime on the Amplify podcast platform.

Karl is a MHANYS’ board member and works with our affiliate Mental Health Association Western New York.