In this episode, Paul reveals the healing power of music. We dive deep into the lessons life taught him the hardest way; he describes how he turned music into a lifesaver when everything around him seemed to sink and what kept him alive despite all odds since he was a baby. We talk about his heart transplant, the challenges he faced before and after that major surgery, and the crazy experience of feeling his donor feelings. Paul kindly shared his most valuable life lessons and a bunch of beautiful life messages.
Rob Shallenberger: Welcome back to our Becoming Your Best podcast listeners. This is your host, Rob Shallenberger. And this is one of those podcasts that is going to be one that I think you could come back and listen to over and over again. And just to set this up and tee this up, I’m a people observer. And whether it’s in the airport, or whether it’s walking around a park, I just love to watch people and observe. And our guest today is Paul Cardall and I would call him probably one of the most amazing people that I’ve ever observed. I’ve watched him on Facebook, I’ve watched him through the years. He’s a composer. He’s arranged all kinds of different music, from Christian to Classical to New Age – all kinds of different music. And man, he’s just amazing in what he does. And then I started learning more about his story. And I’ll let him tell this, but he had some heart issues – was born with some heart issues – ended up having a heart transplant. And really just an amazing life story. So, we’re gonna stop this at around the 30-minute mark. But man, I think we could probably talk for hours based on just what I know about Paul. So, I think we’re in for a treat today. This is exciting to have him here. And we’re gonna finish this podcast by playing one of his songs – that’s how we’re gonna wrap this up – September Winds. And so you’re in for a treat today. So, Paul, first of all, I’d like to welcome you. And thank you for being here. And so glad to have you.
Paul Cardall: It’s nice to be with you, Rob. Thank you so much.
Rob Shallenberger: So Paul, I gave a high-level overview, but maybe you can shed a little bit more light on your background. And you and I talked about this beforehand, but I’d really like to focus on two things. Your life – lessons learned through life, because just following you, I’ve seen your posts, and you have a wealth of amazing life experiences and lessons learned. And then we can shift over to music for the second half. So, maybe just tell our listeners a little bit more about you, your background, and your experience. And then we can go from there.
Paul Cardall: Sure, you know, music kind of interweaves into my entire life. Because each of us, at some point, discover a gift. We all then, with this gift, find our purpose. And when you know your purpose, you’re on fire because you now have a vision and direction of what you need to be doing. And so, I came into this world, and day one, they operated on my heart. They told my parents, I only had half a heart. So, I kind of grew up with this ‘always in the hospital’ scenario. People get educated, they go to college, they plan for retirement. I lived in an environment where they were not sure if I would even make it the first year. And so the idea that life is fragile was always instilled in me from day one. And there was that idea, like, “Am I going to ever have a chance to get a driver’s license, go to college, get married, do all these things?” And so this was the environment. But fortunately, I had parents who were very optimistic. My dad was a broadcast journalist for the local news station. He would ask tough questions to the doctors, and the two of them worked together. And not everybody has that type of support but I’m grateful because of the predicament I was in. It was around my teenage years that I discovered the gift of music; it gave me an understanding of why I was dealing with all this pain of being in and out of a hospital.
Paul Cardall: We have these challenges, and we’re always asking, “Why is this happening to me?” A friend of mine, who was perfectly healthy, played the piano – he was killed in a car accident and I was devastated. And I had a lot of questions for God, I was like, “Why do I have all these scars on my body? My parents are spending a fortune to keep me alive and out of nowhere my friend just gets killed.” It led me into my parent’s living room where I sat at the piano. I hadn’t been at the piano since I was like eight years old. I took piano lessons for like six months. I didn’t like it at all, Rob. It was there at that moment that I began to play a couple of notes. And if you’re in the hospital, you hear the beeping noises of machines – the “Beep, beep beep.” And what a lot of people don’t know is that those are the tones that are actually used for scoring music for horror films. And it’s this crazy thing.
Rob Shallenberger: It is crazy.
Paul Cardall: Yeah. So, when I started playing these three notes, there was a melody. And imagine being so cold and freezing. You know, you’re out on the ice in the snow, and then all of a sudden, your mother comes and puts this warm blanket around you. And for me, at that moment, it was as though God just lit me up on fire and helped me understand; “I got you, I love you. And I made you for a reason. And your friend is with me.” And so, it was that moment, Rob, that I started to recognize something that I knew I needed to do. But it didn’t really take effect until I went and played the song for his parents, and they called the neighbors. And then they called more neighbors. And so people were requesting. So, that vindicated, “Okay, I’m on to something. Let’s see where this goes.” And that’s kind of the beginning of having congenital heart disease – the leading cause of infant-related deaths – surviving that, but then using music. The music healed me internally, so it’s been my life’s mission to use music – instrumental, calm, soothing piano music – to heal your heart. And that’s kind of the path I’m on.
Rob Shallenberger: I actually have two more questions before we talk about the power of music. So, you had that transformational moment right there. And then as you started to develop that gift to the piano, what was that like? Was it just very natural for you? I mean, do you have a perfect pitch? Is it something you can just sit down and play things? Or did you have to really get in there? I mean, of course, there’s a combination of work and gift. But what was that journey like for you once you discovered that this is something that’s a part of your life and your DNA? What happened after that?
Paul Cardall: Oh, I loved music. I mean, I always put the FM — This is the ‘80s – it had the countdown every night. I’d put the radio under my pillow, you know, and create my own natural subwoofer. My dad was always like, “Turn it down, we’re going to sleep.” I’m like, “I gotta listen to this Duran Duran song, or Rush, or whatever.” And I would go to the piano and I’d have relative pitch. But you have to understand, the piano, to me, looked like a puzzle because I didn’t really have many lessons. Like, the piano was life and the keys were a puzzle. How do I figure out life? How do I figure out how to make it work? Because there’s so much sadness, and yet, there’s so much joy, and you have all these opposites. So, as I would sit and play. I would just work things out. The way we process trauma in our minds, or process decision-making, positive things we need to do, I would work it out through music. And so I never was like writing the sunset; it was like, “This is how I feel.” And if you listen to the music, there’s this underlying sadness, and yet there’s this overwhelming hope that life is worth living. And so, the music enabled me and then began empowering other people to recognize their value.
Rob Shallenberger: So powerful! We’re going to come back to the music. Let’s keep walking through your heart journey because, ultimately, you ended up with a transplant. Is that right? Like a full heart transplant? How did that all come about? What was that like?
Paul Cardall: I had a major open-heart surgery at age 13 where I almost died. I had a couple of near-death experiences that seemed very natural. And then I had another heart surgery a year later, I got pacemakers. My friends were like, “It’s cool. My grandpa has a pacemaker, so you’re good.” But then, I started building this music business. And 22 years after that third heart surgery, I went into heart failure, and I was required to wear oxygen full time. They gave me the advantage, man; they gave me a handicapped parking pass. So, I was like, in the front row at Costco. I could get in on the jazzy and get the dirty looks from the older ladies, like, “That’s my jazzy.” And you try to not take advantage of it. But I was dying, and you know, we’re all dying. Some of us just die when we’re 100, like my grandmother. But in these moments, what that was all doing for me was, what do I want to leave? What legacy? What can I do to make the world better? Instead of leaving my shadow behind, I want to leave light behind. And so, I did everything I could to understand business because you don’t just get into the music industry. Nobody wants to just sign a piano player to a record. So I had to create all this on my own. But what fueled me was that knowledge that I can be gone in a year.
Paul Cardall: I waited 385 days on the transplant list. Ironically, my younger brother suffered from mental illness, he was working on his Ph.D. He was bipolar but he was a genius. He had an episode and ended up ending his life. So, he passed away while I was waiting, and that was just bizarre because my dad was on the news that, you know, it came over the radio “The son of Dwayne Cardall has died.” My house started getting all these phone calls, like, “We’re so sorry. We’re so sorry.” And I got to hear what people would actually say in the event of my death. But it was so devastating but I knew when my brother died that there was no way my mother was going to lose two sons. It fueled me to kind of preserve his legacy. I made a promise that a year after his death, I would bring everybody up to this mountain he would climb, called Mount Olympus. I could never do it because I had heart problems. I couldn’t breathe. I was slower than most kids. I was picked on for having bluish-purple lips and not enough oxygen to give me the right color.
Paul Cardall: So, a year later, I ended up getting this incredible heart. And when you get a heart transplant, it’s like, imagine you’re driving this beautiful truck all around, and it’s grandpa’s truck, and everybody loves it but nobody wants to have it full time. It’s for the garden, it’s whatever, it’s trashed. And then you take this truck in, and they hand you the keys to a Porsche. So, once I got a heart, for the first time in my life, I had to cut my fingernails every month, my hair started growing. I mean, I was 36 years old, my voice starts changing. I was going through all the hormones. So, it was very unusual knowing that I had the heart of another person, somebody who had signed up to be an organ donor. And that’s a whole other ballgame, trying to wrap your head around somebody dies and you live. But as a Christian, it’s really empowered me because Jesus laid his life down. And if doctors can take my heart out – clinically, I’m dead – and then put another heart in me, as a Christian, I have no doubt that Jesus can conquer death. If you don’t believe in Jesus, I assure you, we won’t conquer death. And this is way out there but down the road, millions of years, somebody will go, “Okay, that’s God.” And I always just echo it already happened – somebody already conquered death. So, I’m just evidence of the great miracles that are happening in this world when we put our minds together and we really work hard. It’s incredible.
Rob Shallenberger: So, you were 36 years old when you got the heart transplant. Is that right?
Paul Cardall: Yeah. 36.
Rob Shallenberger: And maybe not beat off on a tangent, but I’m just curious. I have thought about it but now that we’re talking about it in that context. Do you know who the heart donor was? Do you know the background? Or did it just show up?
Paul Cardall: No, I do. There are HIPAA rules to protect their identity.
Rob Shallenberger: Yeah, you don’t need to share it here. I’m just curious, do you know —
Paul Cardall: Yeah, he was a state amateur boxing champion. So, I tell my wife, “Hey, listen. If you see a fifth line, it’s not me, it’s the donor.” It’s a dumb joke. She’s more likely to smack me as she’s a bodybuilder. No, but I know his story. And he suffered from severe depression and ended up taking his life. And what’s crazy is our heart organs have memory DNA. So, the experiences we have are embedded into the DNA and a neurologist and a psychiatrist and a transplant doctor told me that I will feel. And we think that the brain is controlling all that, and it is, but you will feel symptoms of what they felt. And so, after I got the heart, it’s like you have to learn to control this new drone, or this puppet, or this monster inside of you. I don’t know if you know the story of the two wolves. A kid went to his grandfather, he said, “Grandpa, I feel like I have two wolves. One of them’s angry, upset, and just not good. The other one’s happy and doing his best. And they seem to be fighting. Which one is going to win?” And the grandfather says, “Whichever one you feed.” It’s the same thing with learning to control this new heart because our brains have a nerve to the heart. So, most people function like a helicopter: you can start exercise, you can stop exercise, and your heart slows down. Me – there’s no nerve right now from my brain to my heart. My body runs on the pressure in the heartbeats according to the pressures in my lungs, so it’s more like a jet. So, if I start exercising, I can’t slow down. I can sit down, but for the next 10-15 minutes, I’m still feeling the side effects of exercise. And it can be good for some things, but not so good for most.
Rob Shallenberger: Wow! These are just things that most of us don’t think about. And isn’t that interesting, too, that we feel in our hearts? Like there’s so much feeling that happens in our hearts. It’s just fascinating to look at it through that lens. And number one, it’s amazing what we can do with technology. But number two, you know, all that comes with it. I just can’t help but think as you’re sharing your story about your brother and the person whose heart you ended up with, what a roller coaster of emotions of a life that you’ve experienced. What’s one of your biggest takeaways from all of this? You’ve gone through all of these ups and downs and seeing some pretty traumatic things. You can call them lessons learned or takeaways, call it whatever you want. But here you are now at this age, when you look back, you say, “This is one or two of the things I’ve gotten from that.”
Paul Cardall: Two things. One – life is fragile. And there’s no question in my mind there’s an afterlife, so there’s no point in taking your life if you’re miserable because you will wake up and go, “Wait a second, I want to get back into my body.” It’s real. I’m not kidding. The second thing – I got the opportunity to hold my heart in my hands.
Rob Shallenberger: Holy cow!
Paul Cardall: Yeah, I had. There’s actually a video I did on my —
Rob Shallenberger: That just gave me chills, by the way.
Paul Cardall: I have a YouTube channel called All Heart Adventures. Anyways, I held my heart in my hands. I went into the lab. And there, to me, was the evidence. I asked this guy, “How in the world with this —” It’s all deformed. It’s got stitches. There’s a lot of disease on it. It’s only a single functioning ventricle. It was what was giving me life, or so I thought. I said, “How in the world did this work?” And they said, “We’re going to try to figure that out. We don’t know. Something just breathes into life and that heart starts beating. And that was the day I was convinced, 100%, that there is a God. And you can create whatever you think in your mind God is, but there is a God. There is somebody, some amazing power who has organized this beautiful, and yet very complex world where we’re down here hurting each other. But ultimately, we’re learning about ourselves. And it’s a customized curriculum. I don’t think everyone belongs in the same church, or everyone belongs in the same country. It’s a customized curriculum because God is teaching us things we most need to know. And it’s going to carry with us to whatever transitions beyond, you know, call it Heaven, call it The Next Stage, but we are in school.
Paul Cardall: So, I’ve always had this motto – stop buying crap you can’t carry around with you, invest in memories, take your family somewhere. Do something outside that your children, that your spouse, that you will always remember. I took a bunch of guys, strangers, up to Wyoming, and we built a sauna. We took a tarp, we created this — We closed it real tight with pins, clips, and stuff. And we put these rocks in the fire for like 12 hours. And then we brought them in, and five of us all went in there. A little awkward at first, we were all on our swimsuits. But we started pouring the water on the sauna, and everyone just unloaded what they’re grateful for. And at this camp, you cannot say one negative thing. It was we’re going to encourage and to honor one another. If you can’t say something nice, like mom says, “Don’t say at all.” And it was the most profound thing, and everybody left that experience going, “We take that with us. We don’t take rocks. We don’t take fish. But you have to create memories.” So, that’s the biggest takeaway.
Rob Shallenberger: That’s awesome, Paul. And I hope our listeners can sense the depth in Paul. This is exactly why I wanted to have you on this podcast. I mean, you can just sense the depth. And I shared this once with our podcast listeners, my mom passed away from early-onset Alzheimer’s, nine months ago. This 10-year decline that we do, it happens slowly and, you know, you wouldn’t wish that on anyone. I was standing in her closet with my other brothers and sister – we were going to clean out her closet so my dad wouldn’t have to – and I had the same epiphany. I looked at her dresses, and she was the sweetest, loving, most kind person you’d ever meet. Everyone loved my mom. And she wasn’t into you know, “things of the world,” she was really about people and memories and experiences; she lived life to its fullest. Paul, I remember standing in a closet and that was the same epiphany. It’s what we know in the back of our mind but I looked around and saw her jewelry, her dresses, and I realized, “She didn’t take any of this with her.” There are really only two things she took with her, and that was the people’s lives she touched and the memories she had with them, and who she became. So, man, I couldn’t echo more and agree more with what you’re talking about there. Man, it’s so powerful.
Rob Shallenberger: See, this is what I meant. I told you when we started the podcast, we could go for hours. Since we have about 10 minutes left, I have another 20 questions right now in my mind, Paul, that I would love to talk with you without going down this path. But I’d like to shift over to the music side of the equation a little bit. I mean, because clearly, people listening can sense the depth in you. And music, in my experience — I mean, we were talking about this before we started — we’ve had music in our home for a long time. I can play to a degree, but my son can just bring people to tears with this music as you can because you’ve brought me to tears before, listening to your music, and so I know it’s powerful. But one thing about music is that we’re talking a lot about transcending culture, and race, and gender, and everything. It’s amazing how music has the power to seem to cut to the heart, or in other words, how it can evoke such a wide array of emotions in us. And I’d love to hear from your perspective, first of all, your thoughts on music in general. I mean, this has been your entire life you have devoted to music. So, what are your thoughts on music in general?
Paul Cardall: We put on my website a link that basically describes and explains the scientific benefits of listening to music because it does release that dopamine and it suits the body, and it also brings people together. So clinically, it is proven that if you listen to certain types of music or play an instrument, you’re less likely to get dementia, you do reduce the chemicals in your body of stress. There are so many benefits – boost the immune system. But that’s kind of what I set it to do is, I want to help people heal, because we have a lot of depression, a lot of stress in our society today. We’re just bombarded with messages that are trying to manipulate us into thinking towards what they’re doing to buy whatever they’re selling. And a lot of this is crap. So, how do you sell goodness? And you should promote goodness. And there should be a price tag on goodness. That fuels the economy to create even more goodness. So, I remember getting an email – this was a couple of years ago – from a young man in Baghdad. My music had gone into 160 countries but I didn’t know it was in Iraq.
Paul Cardall: And I got an email, that it had been written in Arabic, and you can tell it was Google Translated because it was a broken English. He said, “My family died in the first Gulf War. I took jobs on a military base. I hate these people. I contemplate suicide. I walked past a soldier playing Redeemer.” This was a song I had written about Jesus Christ. And this Muslim kid said, “In that moment, I felt Allah say, ‘You should live. You should live.’” And his entire family had been killed by Americans, and yet here he is working on an American military base, and God tells him through it because he heard this song, “You’re still here. You can’t leave that legacy of who your family was. Stay Muslim, create children who are Muslim, preserve your legacy.” And I think of that, and I think, “Wow! What a customized curriculum.” And I have to respect and not try to convert somebody who God has in the palm of his hand. And so music has the power to not only just unite people but truly heal and deliver, I think, a message from the divine to his children. Because we’re all hurting and he wants to heal us. My God was a carpenter, and carpenters love to fix things. So, he’s had his hands full with me. He’s been working on me for a very long time. So, that’s why we wear the cross because that’s where he worked it out.
Rob Shallenberger: A thought that came to mind, Paul, while you were talking: my mom – to go back since we have this bond through, you know, call it death. I remember driving with my mom about a year before she passed away, very far into Alzheimer’s. And I don’t want to call out Lord of the Rings, because I love Lord of the Rings, the movie. It’s funny because we were playing the Lord of the Rings soundtrack. And you know, of course, Lord of the Rings has some really high low scenes, some really bright, exciting scenes, and then some pretty dark scenes. And it’s funny because one of those soundtracks that was playing was pretty intense. And my mom who couldn’t really express her feelings – she sensed the music – there are no words but she sensed the music. And she looked over and said, “This is scary.” Just the music. And so isn’t it interesting, though, the power of music in evoking emotions, whether it’s on that side or on, like you said, the joy side, the exciting, wonderful side. But it’s just interesting to me how music alone without any words can evoke emotions within us.
Paul Cardall: You know, and a lot of it is vibration because the majority of our body is water, and so there is vibration is what’s happening. And so certain tones will affect how our body reacts. You know, the whales were the first to create that music. They carried for hundreds of hundreds of miles their wailing, and that’s how they were able to communicate. And we picked up music from them originally along millions of years ago. So, yeah, you’re right about your mother. And I’ve seen people who have Alzheimer’s start singing songs they learned as a kid in church. They just know it. It’s muscle memory.
Rob Shallenberger: Isn’t it interesting how we can go back to like, say, high school, for some of us, 30-40 years ago, and a song plays on the radio and we can pick up on the words however many decades it’s been but we can just roll right with it as if there was no time that had passed?
Paul Cardall: As long as it’s not Lady In Red By Chris De Burgh that means I have to wait to see which girl I’m gonna ask to slow dance — just play the fast songs, please.
Rob Shallenberger: So, we’re gonna get ready to wrap it up. I just can’t believe how fast this has gone. I said at the beginning, I knew that this would be one of those that I’m just heartbroken to end at 30 minutes because there’s so much we could talk about. And maybe we do this again in the future. So, Paul, let me ask you this: any final, just general thoughts? And then I’m going to give people the chance to hear from you where your website is, how they can find you and follow you because I hope that they will.
Paul Cardall: Oh, I’ve got a lot of issues, I got a lot of problems as a side effect of the transplant trauma and stuff. Life is not easy; it is hard. And it’s easy to spew out a lot of information and conversation. But the reality is, we’re all struggling. And I think we need to slow down, and really just get outside. We gotta go outside. We are becoming slaves to everything. And the government wants us to be slaves to everything so they can control us. We need to have the flexibility in our lives to say, “No, I’m going to go outside. I’m going to go look at the sun for two minutes.” Don’t stare directly into it. But I need that vitamin D. So, I mean, just observe. You know, Jesus observed the smallest birds in the trees. He was aware. I looked at that all the time. Just be aware. Not of what’s coming from the iPhone or from technology, but from what’s really going on outside.
Rob Shallenberger: On that note, Paul, how can people find you? Website or social media?
Paul Cardall: Yeah, I have a website, paulcardall.com. And I got two amazing secretaries: Alexa and Siri. So, if you ask Alexa or Siri to play Paul Cardall, they usually remember. But yeah, paulcardall.com is the train station. From there, you can go. I’ve got all these crazy adventures we’re doing. Some of those adventures, like, how to eat a worm? How to build a sauna in the camp? And then there’s the calm, peaceful world. And then I’ve got a podcast where I interview a lot of incredible people, like Jonathan Roumie who played Jesus in The Chosen, to Tyler Glenn from Neon Trees – very diverse but people’s purpose, and that’s called All Heart. So, it’s all there, paulcardall.com.
Rob Shallenberger: I hope people will go and check that out. Because just in this short conversation that we’ve had, I hope they can sense your depth, and what you’re offering the world. Now, this is to our listeners, for those of you listening, I promise when you listen to his music, you’ll feel it in your hearts – you can’t help but be moved. And I’ve been listening to Paul for years and years. And I’ve listened to a lot of different composers or arrangements from different people. And what he’s done is just beautiful. The same depth that we’ve heard in this conversation is translated into his music. And so that’s why I want to end this podcast in a very unique way that we haven’t done before that I’m aware of, in over 300 podcasts, and that is to end with one of your songs. And so we talked about it beforehand, Paul said it’s gonna be September Winds, which is a new song, I believe, that he’s arranged or composed. So, Paul, why don’t you introduce this song, and then we’ll wrap it up and we’re going to go right into that. And I invite people in a place where they can actually focus to listen to that. Like you’ve talked about – listen with your heart.
Paul Cardall: Well, thank you so much, Rob, for having me. And for everybody listening, I appreciate it. So, I’ve been working on this new album that helps people get through the holiday season. It can be a stressful time during the fourth quarter. So, September Winds is the first song on an upcoming album called December. And the idea is that things are dying – the gardens. But are they really dying? The flowers are sleeping. We have this promise that spring comes. So, when we can maintain that perspective, and as you listen to the music, life may be down but there’s that promise that spring comes, that new life happens. And so, it takes you from September through the new year of, kind of an advent season pretty much so. Sit back, relax, and don’t think too much. Just enjoy.
Rob Shallenberger: Paul, thank you so much for being here. Amazing. Appreciate you being here, brother. And for all of you, we appreciate you, wherever you’re out in the world and enjoy September Winds.
Leading authority on leadership and execution, F-16 Fighter Pilot, and father
Paul is a gifted pianist and prolific composer. He has over 2.3 billion streams in over 160 nations.