Kacie Ciarelli ‘21, a music industry major, will leave Saint Rose with something highly coveted: a tight-knit group of friends who have her back. Ciarelli’s friends are who got her through the good times — and the bad times — while completing her degree and starting a new chapter in her life. Entering her senior year at Saint Rose, Ciarelli and her friend group lost Kyle Robinson ‘21, a fellow music industry major, to a tragic car accident. And although it’s hard to imagine overcoming a loss while enduring a pandemic and all the other challenges that rose to the surface this past year, Ciarelli and her friends did something inspiring when they started a nonprofit in his name.
Ciarelli was offered a spot at Belmont College of Law, in Nashville, Tennessee, where she will start this fall. But the Kyle Robinson Memorial Foundation will continue to operate under her leadership — she’s got big plans to carry on her friend’s legacy. And, no doubt, there are big things in store for Ciarelli’s future, too.
We recently caught up with her to ask about her Saint Rose experience and future plans. Here’s what she had to say:
What did you like best about your program? There were many amazing parts of the music industry program at Saint Rose, but I have to say the part I loved the most was that the people in the music industry program were like family. From 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. every single day, I worked with my peers on campus, in the classroom, in rehearsals, and in the studios. Then, at the end of the day, we walked across the street to each other’s houses and hung out as we prepared for the next long day of music. The Hearst Communications Building and surrounding Albany streets felt like a happy little bubble. Being constantly surrounded by people who were doing the same things and love the same things as I did made learning and growing up fun. On top of that, we were really able to build relationships with the professors. Professors cared about our well-being, personal success, and creativity beyond the classroom. Support was always given by other students and professors, and the music industry program felt safe. Because of this tight-knit community in the music industry department, I was able to personalize my studies and learn more than I ever could have in a lecture hall environment.
List any clubs/organizations you joined while at Saint Rose. The Rose Record Label Group, a student-run record label at Saint Rose, played a huge role in my college experience. I joined in my first year as part of the legal team, and was then voted into the position of vice president during my sophomore and junior years. The experience was extremely rewarding and taught me a lot about leadership and working as part of a team. It also taught me a ton about different career paths within the music industry and helped me to figure out my next steps after Saint Rose!
What is your favorite memory of Saint Rose? There are so many memories from Saint Rose that I will cherish for the rest of my life. One of my favorite memories would have to be the semesterly “Cover Show” that the Music Industry Student Association (MISA) put on. Each semester, people could sign up together as a cover band to perform songs by their favorite artists. Cover bands could play three songs and had to come up with a name that alluded to the identity of the original artist. The shows were incredibly entertaining and consisted of performances that were mostly thrown together last minute, just for fun. There was one show where “The Biggles,” a “Wiggles” cover band, made an appearance, but I have to say my favorite performance was by “Washington Park,” a “Linkin Park” cover band. The group went hard! There was moshing, yelling, laughing, and very passionate instrument playing involved, including a fabulous tambourine performance by my friend, the late Kyle Robinson, that left his hands bleeding. The Cover Show was really just a fun event that celebrated playing good music with buddies.
What have you learned through the pandemic? While I will say that the start of the pandemic did begin the hardest chapter of my life thus far, it actually is something that I am oddly grateful for. Once the pandemic hit, life slowed down for everyone. Being that those first few months of quarantine were the last few months that I’d have with Kyle, I am extremely grateful to have been unemployed and forced to stay at home with him, my roommates, and friends. I was able to recognize what is important in life: the basic necessities, such as food, shelter, and companionship. The pandemic taught me to be grateful for time spent with the people I care about.
What was the best class you took at Saint Rose, and why? The best class that I took at Saint Rose was Analog Recording, taught by Professor Sean McClowry, associate professor of music industry. The class met at 8 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays in Studio A, located in the Hearst Communications Building. I enjoyed this class for many reasons. First of all, the class was made up of all of my closest friends within the department — the dream team, if you will. This created a really fun and trusting environment. We were all ready to take risks, learn, and be nerdy with each other. Second, Professor McClowry understood that 8 a.m. was not an ideal time to be awake for the average college student, so he brewed black coffee for us every morning. One of the required supplies listed for the class was to bring your own mug. It turned into a fun game of “who has the most interesting mug.” And finally, the class was based on the concept of discovery. Each time we entered the studio, we dove into a topic, studied the greatest examples, and then tried it out for ourselves. Analog Recording focused on the art of recording without modern technology — we focused on tape recording and vinyl records. We dug into our favorite records and figured out how these great musicians were able to get the sounds that they got! The subject was fascinating to everyone in the class, so every day felt like a new adventure, and each student matched the pumped energy of others around them. I loved the class because it was a music student’s dream content, and most of all, I was inspired by the passion of my friends and Professor McClowry.
What are your future plans? My future plans, as of now, are to attend law school and continue to run the Kyle Robinson Memorial Foundation. Once I graduate from law school, my hope is to work as an in-house attorney at a record label or other large company in the music industry. I love the idea of working with artists and working in a music industry-based company, rather than a law firm. The Kyle Robinson Memorial Foundation will hopefully be a lifelong project for me as well. We will see where life takes me!
Any career or grad school prospects? I am excited to say that I will be attending Belmont University College of Law, in Nashville, Tennessee, in the fall of 2021. I will be pursuing a Juris Doctorate degree with their Entertainment Law and Music Business Certificate.
What did Saint Rose teach you? Saint Rose taught me more than I can put into words. I believe that I really grew up during my time at Saint Rose. I learned about the music industry, piano performance, songwriting, music production, playing as part of an ensemble, leadership, communication, friendship, love, living in an apartment, taxes, buying groceries, starting a business, parking on the right side of the road, and learning how to be on my own — to name a few things. I think, most of all, Saint Rose taught me to own myself. Before attending college, I felt insecure about sticking to what I believed in or even dressing the way I wanted to. After my time at Saint Rose, I realized that it is good to be proud of who you are, what you’ve accomplished, and what you feel comfortable doing. I’ve always been very outspoken, but I think Saint Rose taught me to be confident in what I have to say.
Tell us a bit about the nonprofit organization you started for Kyle. My very close friend and fellow Saint Rose music industry major, Kyle Robinson, passed away in July 2020, the summer before our senior year at Saint Rose. Kyle was an amazing musician, songwriter, producer, and the most trustworthy friend. Following his passing, our friends stuck very close together and leaned on each other a lot. We realized that we were all friends because Kyle brought us together. We all decided that we wanted to do something to honor him and also something that would honor our friendship. When I had the original idea, I put all of us into a Facebook Group Chat, and we decided as a group to go forward with starting a nonprofit organization to carry on Kyle’s legacy. Our first thought was that we wanted to celebrate and lift up people that are similar to Kyle because his generosity, talent, and overall character are something worthy of being recognized. The members of the Kyle Robinson Memorial Foundation decided that our purpose, starting out, is to provide scholarships to students pursuing a career in the music industry and funding to projects that embody Kyle’s spirit, such as a recording studio built in honor of Kyle at his high school in Plymouth, Massachusetts. A big reason why we wanted to create a nonprofit, instead of creating a small scholarship fund, is because we feel inspired to take on bigger projects and make more of an impact in the music community as we grow. For example, during brainstorming sessions, we have thrown around the idea of maintaining a performance venue under the foundation or running a nonprofit recording studio under KRMF.
We have been extremely grateful for Kyle’s family’s involvement in the Kyle Robinson Memorial Foundation. Kyle’s sister, Katie, is a voting member of the Board of Directors, and his parents, Kim and Jim, and his Uncle Jeff sit in on every meeting. They have been extremely supportive and trusting throughout the formative months of the Foundation, and it has been amazing to be able to form a relationship with them.
In the mere eight months since Kyle’s passing, the Foundation has been formed, obtained official 501c3 status, and has started to function very nicely. We received an extremely positive reaction so far and have been steadily building a following. While the experience has been challenging, I am extremely proud of the work that we have put into the organization, and I believe that Kyle’s legacy will live on in the work that we do to support the music community.
Who was your best professor, and why? There was not just one professor that I can say was my “best professor” at Saint Rose, because so many professors affected my journey in a positive way. Professor Sean McClowry was an amazing mentor during my time at Saint Rose. He really helped me discover my passions and gave me the incredible ability to personalize my experience at Saint Rose. Sean was very generous to me, and other students, and gave us the resources to dive into our interests. Whenever he saw that I was showing interest in something, he would recommend a book or share a piece of advice to help me go further. Dr. Andrew McKenna Lee, assistant professor of music industry, was an amazing advisor, supporter, and teacher. His classes were extremely interesting and he taught with such precision and clarity. Praise from Dr. Lee was always something to be celebrated! Professor Emily Pinkerton, assistant professor of music industry, was so kind and supportive during my journey, and even though I only took one class with her, I learned so much about expression, creativity, and individuality. Sister Mary Ann Nelson, professor of music industry, who is retiring this May, carries so much wisdom and experience. Her classes and her own personal journey were inspiring to me. Matt Finck, an adjunct professor, taught most of my ensemble classes and taught me so much about being a musician, trusting my ear, and just vibing with the music. Dr. Young Kim, professor of piano, was my classical piano teacher. She elevated my piano playing and taught me discipline. Rob Lindquist was my jazz piano teacher; he was able to bring me into the world of jazz. These teachers invested time in me and other students within the music industry program at Saint Rose. I am extremely grateful for their guidance, knowledge, and friendship.
Advice for incoming students: My advice for incoming students is to dedicate yourself to your college experience. Everybody always says “get involved in school,” but I mean really get involved. Prioritize school and everything that goes with it. Get to know your professors — they are there to help you and lift you up. Get involved with your peers! I think a huge aspect of college is the connections you make with friends and peers. I am so grateful that I got to run around from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. with my classmates every day of the week doing something related to Saint Rose. When I wasn’t running around like a chicken with its head cut off, I was going to local shows or meeting up with friends. I cannot emphasize enough how many more cool things you get to do or amazing opportunities that appear because of this. Because I was so involved in school (I was kind of part of the “teacher’s pet” group — we were cool, though) I was always asked to test out new equipment for the studios or speak at events. In addition, my amazing friends sometimes send me different job opportunities where they’ve “put in a good word for me” or give me access to special exclusive webinars about the music industry. And, of course, I love doing the same for them! Diving into the “college bubble” is something that I am so grateful for because I know that I’ve made the most of my college experience, and I get to take my lifelong friendships with me. Embracing this time of discovery will set you up for success!
Look for more stories about our Class of 2021 & Class of 2020 graduates in our upcoming Saint Rose magazine.