Music : David Crohan performs
Working with one's hands is common to Martha's Vineyard residents, whether it's crafting a cabinet, reeling in a striper, or in the case of pianist David Crohan, holding an audience enraptured.
On June 1, at the Old Whaling Church, Mr. Crohan will play his 25th benefit concert for the Community Solar Greenhouse of Martha's Vineyard (COMSOG).
After performing for 60 years (he began when he was three), David Crohan speaks of music with the energy and passion of someone just discovering the secret to his craft. He admits, "I think there is a little idiot savant in me, because I love it. I sit down and play, and can't imagine life without it. I love it today as much, perhaps more, than I ever have."
Born sightless, Mr. Crohan attended the Perkins School for the Blind in Boston, and later studied at the New England Conservatory of Music. He began performing on the Vineyard in the early 1960s. For the following 20 years, he appeared at his own establishment, David's Island House (now Island House) in Oak Bluffs.
After a lifetime of performing for appreciative crowds (for the past five years he and his wife Claudette have been residents of Palm Beach, Florida), it is the Vineyard concerts - being back on the Island, reuniting with his three children and many friends -that excites him most.
Although he maintains a hectic schedule playing seven or eight concerts a year, six nights a week in a Palm Beach nightspot, and as a member of a quartet on weekends, he remains partial to the Vineyard. "These concerts are particularly special to me," Mr. Crohan says. "I suppose even more so since I'm away from the Vineyard now. And this is one of the few chances I get to play for a group of people that I truly love. It's a very emotional experience."
The COMSOG benefit concerts began 25 years ago with Mr. Crohan performing solo. For his performances, he's likely to decide on the program on the last day. "I never look back on it once I've decided," he says.
The first concert went well, but at a meeting afterward, it was suggested that working with someone else might provide an additional draw.
"At first I was a little hurt about it," he says, laughing. "What? I'm not good enough? But the more I thought about it, the more I thought it might be fun."
So from then on, Mr. Crohan has invited company on stage. Classical cellist Caroline Worthington was one who joined him. Up until then, Mr. Crohan avoided chamber music due to the difficulty of trying to memorize it a phrase at a time in Braille, but he learned the piano parts from an audiotape. He recalls that the performance, "was one of the most musically astonishing experiences I ever had."
Photo by Danielle Zerbonne
As the number of participating performers grew, the concerts began to incorporate everything from jazz to popular music. The group playing with him this year includes musicians he played with during his David's Island House days - old friends who have played together many times. They will help him acknowledge James Taylor's 60th birthday. Perhaps most "thrilling" to him is the presence of his son, Philip, a college sophomore, who plays guitar.
This year, while the audience settles into its seats, the concert will open with Richard Rodgers's overture to the Broadway show "Carousel," followed by the timely, "June Is Busting Out All Over." It will be followed by classical selections: Brahms, an uncharacteristic Beethoven sonata ("more like Mendelssohn or Schubert, but it is remarkably beautiful"), and works by Bach, pieces the pianist describes as being "among the monumental works of keyboard music, or any music."
And then Mr. Crohan will return to Richard Rodgers. He is just warming up.
"I love mixing it up like this," he says, "And when I have this group in particular, and this series of concerts, I mix it up in an even more extreme way than I usually do. So, it really is a serious afternoon of music in some ways, and it's also a huge amount of fun."
He reflects a moment and says, "I just feel like one of the luckiest guys in the world. It could all end tomorrow. I'm 63, and none of my siblings made it out of their 60s, so I think about this kind of thing more than I should." He laughs. "I can't say it makes me exercise more, or eat healthier, but it makes me conscious of the joy that's there every day - if you want to find it. And playing music makes it very easy to find."
Freelance writer James Burrows divides his time between the Vineyard and Los Angeles.