Arlene is rightly praised for her true musical brilliance, knowledge, and insight, which has so enriched my own musical experience along with so many others. Yet I’ve especially admired how she shares her sheer delight in music and enthusiastically encourages complete beginners — people who, perhaps timidly, are just now entering the world of sublime musical works which she inhabits full time.
The first time I went to Arlene’s house, I was astounded by her enormous, gloriously cluttered living room. The size of an old-fashioned drawing room, the room was stuffed full almost to the ceiling with everything musical. Old scores on the floor in rickety piles; dusty busts of the great composers; children’s music tests and scrawled drawings all over the walls; enough music stands and chairs for a medium-size choir; and boxes, shelves, baskets, and bags of recorded music in so much variety, from vinyl to audio tapes to CDs, that I half expected to see 8-track cassettes or a Victrola. And in the center of it all: Arlene, sitting at the huge grand piano, beaming.
It actually took a few visits for me to see just how many more instruments reside in that room. I’m still not sure, but I think there are two more pianos, several harpsichords, trumpets, odd percussion instruments, a violin or two, and many recorders. Even the wall clock, a gift from her son, emits birdsongs on the hour. Best of all, and still unbeknownst to many, is a large yet virtually invisible electric organ with two or three keyboards and a full array of foot pedals. The power for this remarkably loud instrument comes from plugging in a mysterious wheezing generator, which is actually housed in a whole other room, and sounds like it’s just about to explode. I will never forget the day Arlene happily urged me, a rank beginner, to pound out Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, I think it was, on that organ, at its window-shaking topmost volume. She said it was a good way to practice scales.
For years since I have amused myself by challenging first-timers to that magical room to guess precisely how many instruments it actually contains – with bonus points if you can find all five (or is it six?) harpsichords. I don’t know why, but for the nervous newcomer, the effect of entering that room is reassuring, even if the sheer messy totality of assorted “stuff” makes it a bit alarming too. Somehow, you immediately feel right at home. I’m not sure, but maybe it’s because you may not know much about music, but you can’t avoid being inspired and cheered by the presence of someone who draws such energy and happiness from being surrounded by it every day. That’s Arlene: a gleeful and generous genius, surrounded by — and happily sharing — what she loves the most.