PORT TOWNSEND — At 3 years old, Carol Rich knew.
Seated at a gigantic Steinway piano, “My expression says, ‘Don’t bother me, Dad. I’m practicing.’ My fingers say, ‘We’ve no idea what we’re doing, but we want to do this forever.’ ”
So Rich begins her just-published book, “Life in Miniatures: A View from the Piano Bench,” a collection of scenes from a career that’s anything but miniature.
At 65, Rich, who now lives in Port Townsend, tells the tale of her trajectory to the heights of the classical music world.
“Miniatures” is available at Amazon.com and from Rich herself via CaRichpiano@gmail.com.
Born in Queens, N.Y., she learned the symphonic repertoire — Mozart, Beethoven and brethren — as a girl, her father sitting beside her at the piano.
“I learned how to truly listen,” Rich writes. “I discovered a river of music flowing through me, like joy in my veins.”
The adventures started coming.
Rich got into to the vaunted Hartt School in West Hartford, Conn., and, donning her leather jacket, went out to The Lib, Hartford’s lesbian bar.
An expert pool player, she shivered a little when challenged by a sexy sister: “How am I supposed to focus when my opponent is a Kate Jackson look-alike?” she remembers thinking.
For her master’s degree, Rich auditioned for The Juilliard School in New York City. She was accepted, and for some of her time there, she was shadowed by a suspicion that she didn’t belong.
Her mentors taught her to embrace herself.
Those Juilliard days — and the ones that followed at Carnegie Hall — fill “Life in Miniatures” with larger-than-life figures.
One day in the school elevator, the doors opened and in stepped Mikhail Baryshnikov. He wore a black sleeveless top. His skin glistened with sweat.
“I managed to squeak out ‘Hello,’ ” Rich writes, “even though I was on the verge of a major coronary event.”
In another scene, Rich gave a performance with cellist Loretta O’Sullivan at Carnegie Recital Hall. Multiple curtain calls had the women give two encores, and then Rich is released, about to go to the after-party at the Russian Tea Room nearby.
First, she walked down the hallway to the purple curtain behind Carnegie Hall’s main stage.
“Then I heard his velvety voice,” she recalled.
“Frank Sinatra was sitting on a tall stool in a pool of cool blue-white light … Smoke rose from a cigarette dangling from his hand, and a hat tilted to one side cast a shadow over his face.”
The book’s stories don’t flow in a linear or chronological fashion. And Rich is not afraid to write about cruelty and loss.
She describes her mother as psychologically abusive; she has two brothers: one with no empathy and the other her protector.
As the vignettes play out, Rich returns again and again to solace. She loves birds, wilderness and mountains, and she slips into a reverie when connecting with them all.
In 1988, the pianist moved to Portland, Ore., and became well-known for her music with the Oregon Symphony and Oregon Ballet Theatre.
Rich gives thanks, in this memoir, for finding the love of her life: Georgia Arrow, whom she married in 2004, the very hour it became legal in Oregon.
The historic mass wedding took place in the same venue where Rich was the pianist in the ballet orchestra.
“There was a blowout party, and then we settled into officially being wife and wife,” she recalled.
“When we got a refund check in the mail, we learned that the marriage was never acknowledged in the eyes of the law.”
So, two years later, the couple traveled to Vancouver, Canada, to say their vows before a Canadian magistrate in Stanley Park.
Some five years ago, after they left Portland — it had changed so much it was unlivable, Rich said — she and Arrow began researching smaller Pacific Northwest cities. They found a spot, Rich said, where people value the arts and nature: Port Townsend.
They moved in 2017, and Rich has since received plenty of invitations to play.
One of her first engagements was with the Port Angeles Symphony Orchestra, performing the dramatic piano part of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony. Rich adores the piece — and in performance, she found kindred spirits in the Port Angeles High School auditorium.
“The commitment to the music was electric,” she said, adding that percussionist Angie Tabor, also a Port Townsend resident, and music director Jonathan Pasternack, whom she knew when he was assistant conductor of the Oregon Symphony, were among the musicians who made her feel welcome.
Since then, Rich has performed across the region, in Port Townsend’s Candlelight Concert series and with the Rainshadow Chorale, among other ensembles.
“I’ve been trying to cut back on performing as part of my semi-retirement,” she said, adding she’s “still heavily into teaching,” which she can’t imagine ever stopping.
Still, there is no feeling like being on a stage, she writes in the chapter titled “In Symphony”: seated at the Steinway, surrounded by winds, brass and strings breathing as one.
“The conductor, somewhere way the heck out there,” is like our godparent, she quips.
“I miss being there, in the moment — taking it all in,” even as she enjoys her new life in Port Townsend.
The community, on a deep level, fits her.
“After all the hoopla of life as a professional musician,” Rich said, “I’ve come home to a place where I’m most true to myself.”
Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or firstname.lastname@example.org.