Martin Hall has always been a hub for aspiring musicians at Texas Wesleyan University. But over the past year, Kristen Carlini, coordinator of the Department of Music, has been on a mission to turn this space into more than just classrooms and practice rooms. She's transformed it into a "home away from home" for everyone in the music department.
Carlini transferred to Texas Wesleyan University as a music education major from Tarrant County Community College, all while owning her own hairstyling business. However, her focus soon shifted from personal ambitions to a greater calling – to ensure the success and well-being of the entire music department, even if it meant putting her own desires on the back burner.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the music department faced unprecedented challenges. The absence of live audiences and the shift to video conferences left many students questioning their musical futures.
“I think for me, because I was a student here when the department was thriving, when I knew it was suffering from everything that was happening in our society, I knew I could come in and help make a difference,” she said.
It was in these trying times that Carlini took on the role of coordinator, fueled by a passionate desire to see the department not just survive, but thrive.
“A lot of people don't think about how the environment matters,” she said. “I had the availability to do it. The professors have so many things to think about already. They needed someone to be able to come in and help. And I said, ‘I got this!’”
Carlini collaborated with students to put up a fresh coat of paint, adorn the walls with inspiring artwork and lively decals and revitalize common areas. She created cozy study spaces and faculty lounges that have breathed new life into the building.
“When I first started working here, there were hardly any students [in Martin Hall]. It was so sad to walk in never see anybody,” she said. “Now I'll walk in the door and the downstairs is full. I love it when I come in and the students are chilling on the couches and studying at the tables.”
But Kristen's contributions go well beyond refurbishing the building. She takes charge of organizing numerous department events, manages its social media presence, assists with budgeting and actively engages in recruiting new students. Her dedication knows no bounds.
“It's just a great idea of a job for me,” she said. “I get to be creative. I get to use my OCD skills a bit, and I love numbers.”
And when it's time for Kristen to unwind after a demanding day, she works on attempting to teach herself how to play on her beloved banjolele, an instrument that marries the charm of the banjo and the playfulness of the ukulele. With her banjolele in hand, she lets her musical spirit soar, a testament to her unwavering commitment to the world of music.
“A lot of music students see the instrument or singing as work, but it can be a stress relief to just sit there and play or sing,” she said.
Carlini started her musical journey as a young child, surrounded by a family of singers and musicians. She sang for various school and church choirs and picked up playing a few instruments along the way.
“Anytime we have any kind of family gathering, everyone pulls out their instruments and gets in a circle and starts singing. Some people gather around the food table. My family gathers around a bonfire and sings,” she said, smiling.
Her love for music is evident not just in her dabbling of playing but also in her collection of unique instruments and vocal prowess. Even if she doesn't play them all, her passion for collecting instruments tells the story of her love for music.
“My husband loves it,” she laughed. “If an instrument comes in our house, it's never leaving. I've been obsessed with trying to find a banjo and a didgeridoo. I would play the didgeridoo every morning, just because I could.”
As she looks to the future, Carlini’s aspirations encompass not only the growth of the music department but also the possibility of owning a jazz lounge. As she envisions a future that blends her love for music with life's adventures, one thing is certain – Kristen Carlini's journey is far from its final note. Her story is a harmonious reminder that passion, when nurtured, can transform spaces, careers and lives into a beautiful symphony of success.