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Remembering Arlene Kies

By Gabrielle LaMontagne


Beloved Principal Lecturer in Music, particularly piano, Arlene Kies died this past week after nearly a two-year struggle with cancer.

According to professor and dear friend of Kies, David Ripley, “The wondrous gift of [Kies’] presence and musicianship to the UNH Music Department cannot be overstated. She has been an inspiration to every faculty member and inspired our students for decades. She was not only a brilliant pianist but worked tirelessly in support of others. Personally speaking, the work I did with her, the music we made together for 20 years, is part of the foundation of my whole life.”

He also discussed the importance of the loving support Kies received in her last years from her husband, Christopher, and their daughters, Antonietta, Marianne and Charlotte.

Many people who knew Kies had wonderful things to say about her.

“She ran a program where former students teach community members who wanted to learn piano. The lessons consisted of one individual lesson with the student per week and once per month a group session run by Kies herself. She was already very ill by September 2014, when I started taking lessons, but she was still a tough teacher. She’d say ‘you need to do that again’…which was [impressive],” said Professor Emeritus of English Andrew Merton.

Professor Michael Annicchiarico said, “Arlene Kies did everything in her life with passion.  Whether it was performing music, teaching her students or simply making you a lunch, she put everything she had into it.  She is a model to us all!”

Students throughout the years have been awed and inspired by Kies talent, both as a 

pianist and a teacher. “One of my fondest memories is when I was upset over a not-so-great performance at a recital and she told me ‘Okay, let’s see if you are effected by internal or external distractions.’ She had me sit down and play my piece. Soon after I started, she began to read from a random book loudly in fluent German, eventually throwing the book on the ground with a loud thud as I finished the piece. It not only made me laugh, but also see exactly what I was struggling with and how to fix it,” said senior Rebecca Austin.

Last year, Kies received the 2015 Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Award, for which former student Valerie Peters nominated her for.

Professor and chair of the music department, Peggy Vagts said, “I played with [Kies] for about twenty years.  She was an amazing pianist and could play anything; in fact, she could play almost anything at sight and didn’t even need to rehearse very much.  Just before she got sick, she performed a solo piano concerto with the Portsmouth Symphony which was incredible…I also remember [Keis’] faculty recital which she played a day or two after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.  Everyone was very rattled and upset and distracted that week; I didn’t even want to go to [Kies’] concert.  I remember wondering how on earth she could concentrate and play a program at all, never mind by memory.  But [Kies] was a complete professional, as usual, and performed the recital beautifully. The unbelievable calm that came from her playing of that music washed over all of us.  It really was a balm for me in that upsetting time and reminded me of the power of music….”

Abigail Rienzo, a former student of Kies wrote this on Facebook as a tribute to her former mentor, “My favorite [Kies] memory might be the time she found [my friend and me] drunk and lost wandering the Adriatic coast, took us to go get lunch, and told us we were pretty. It might be sophomore year, the first time she told me I sounded good on a student recital, at which point I was confident I had achieved my peak success. It might be the time she returned to the stage for a fourth bow after a flawless performance and told the still-cheering audience exasperatedly, ‘Jeez, guys, I didn’t write the d— thing.’”

Kies’ music lives on in video recordings done by the university, and can be found with a simple online search.

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