Ria Dawn Carlo

Photo: Mark Carlo

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The Pianist: Ria Dawn Carlo
The first time I saw a piano, I was in first grade. My teacher played "When the Saints Go Marching In," and that was it: I wanted to play. When the others ran to recess, I would practice scales. My parents didn't go to church, but I went with my art teacher, to play piano there. I begged for lessons and finally began at age 9. At 11, I told my teachers that I wanted to be a concert pianist. They said the odds were slim, and that I'd have to win the Tchaikovsky Competition—a one-in-a-million shot.

That was pretty discouraging, and as time passed, I grew away from music and instead pursued mathematics. For years I worked as an astrophysicist and had time for little else. But three years ago, when I switched jobs, I found myself thinking of the piano. At age 34, I decided to begin again.

As soon as I sat at the keys, I felt as if I'd entered a room made just for me. In the beginning, I used an electric keyboard and pretended I was on a grand piano. Buying a used Yamaha last year was a real commitment. It makes such a booming sound, my husband and I moved to a bigger apartment so I can play for an hour or two every day. Since I started practicing on my concert grand, I've won an international competition and performed at a fund-raiser at Carnegie Hall. Onstage, I could feel myself filling with light. These are the best moments of my life.
—As told to Diane Herbst