Peter Halperin embraces his musical side


Peter Halperin is a romantic. Not the first thing that comes to mind when describing a shrink known for a specialty in integrating psychiatric care into general medical settings. 

A lifelong musician, Halperin has made a success of his “day job” as a doctor, given his acknowledged expertise and having been a faculty member at Harvard, Stonybrook, and Tufts medical schools. He’s practicing these days three days a week in Northampton, commuting from his West Tisbury home, where he and his wife Martha are transitioning into living full-time. The musician half of Halperin will be performing his songs, accompanying himself on piano and guitar, at the West Tisbury library on August 27. In an impressive switch in genre, he’ll throw in some Beethoven as well, in the form of the “Pastoral” sonata.

Longtime friend and fellow doctor Gerry Yukevich recently advised Halperin to “retire now. Play music all the time.” But Halperin is enjoying his new part-time doctoring schedule, while indeed filling the rest of his time with his real love — music.

“For my entire life, music has held an incredible attraction,” Halperin says. “It pulls at the creative heartstrings for people like me, who may have drifted off the path to other careers. And I’ve found, as I suspect others have, that the Island has a passionate artistic environment that encourages and inspires.”

Yukevich is one of Halperin’s Island fellow travelers, with a previous career in emergency room medicine, yet always extremely active in his own artistic pursuits. A longtime board member of the M.V. Playhouse, he’s an actor, playwright, novelist, composer, lyricist, pianist, singer, James Joyce aficionado, and man about town. He first heard Halperin play, by chance, in the 1990s, and was “amazed at the fabulous artistry coming out of Peter’s guitar and piano.” 

Halperin’s earliest memory is playing a toy piano when he was 2, and I bet even at that age, he had an innate understanding of where he “lived.” Halperin started studying piano formally from the age of 8, and stopped at 11. By 15 he’d been back at it for a few years, and had started writing his own tunes. He was inspired by folk music and the Beatles — which prompted him to pick up the guitar — and playing the blues by ear on the piano. If you can’t imagine folk music inspiring anyone, you’re too young. Folk was at the forefront of activist social movements and an essential part of the hip music scene when Halperin and his fellow baby boomers were first coming of age. 

Before becoming a doctor, Halperin did pretty damn well as a singer-songwriter, guitarist, and pianist, playing gigs in many of the music clubs in New York City’s Greenwich Village — the Bitter End, Folk City, and the Gaslight. 

Halperin had a big night as part of the scene on the now legendary evening when Bob Dylan filmed a set of musician friends jamming with him in the Village. They were shortly after to tour as the Rolling Thunder Revue. Joining Dylan on that night were Joan Baez, Patti Smith, the Island’s own Arlen Roth, and other assorted suspect characters. Bette Midler was there too, flirting with Halperin. Pretty cool.

Halperin liked making music, but eventually some of the excesses of the scene and the unavoidable insecurities of a career in rock ’n’ roll led him to med school. He chose psychiatry during his residency at Mass. General.

Life happened — a happy marriage, a couple of now grown musical kids, mortgages, job-related moves — and Halperin “drifted away” from music. But music kept resurfacing, and now it’s back with a vengeance. 

Halperin’s re-entry happened by chance in 2016, due to the touching intuition of Martha Halperin. He recalls, “My family and I were in Boston for the day, and finding ourselves faced with the afternoon rush hour, we decided to kill some time. Although I hadn’t played music for quite some time, completely out of nowhere, my wife Martha said, ‘Let’s go look at Steinways,’ which we did. My interest was piqued, especially learning that we could play Steinways at the Symphony Hall at their upcoming annual sale. Playing again, on a wonderful instrument in the spectacular hall, did it. I practically had an out-of-body experience. Martha’s intuition was right on. We bought a Steinway, and music re-entered my world.”

These days Halperin is grateful for Pathways Arts and piano man David Stanwood for their inspirational support of his musicmaking, and the opportunities they offer to perform. He said he believes “the Vineyard is an aphrodisiac for creativity.”

Yukevich talks about overhearing Halperin for the first time across the street from his home. Yukevich was stunned, in a good way. What he heard was Halperin singing and playing his own “jazz ballad”: “In this haven where we regain our soul/ In the spell cast so long ago/ In our Martha’s Vineyard home.”

Peter Halperin will present a free performance on Tuesday, August 27, from 4:30 to 5:30 pm at the West Tisbury library.