On Sunday afternoon, a piano concerto by Robert Schumann floated through the screen door of David Crohan’s summer home overlooking Lagoon Pond in Vineyard Haven. Mr. Crohan learned the piece more than 50 years ago while a student at Perkins School for the Blind, and was playing it now from memory.
Mr. Crohan rarely forgets a piece of music, as long as he practices it. “According to my mother, I could sing 100 songs by the time I was two,” he said. “By the time I was five, I could play many popular songs — in a childish way, but it was enough to impress my family and friends a lot, for a little kid to be able to do that.”
David Crohan first visited the Island with his family after graduating from high school in 1962. Over the years, as a resident and then a seasonal visitor, his concerts and nightly gigs around the Island have benefitted local groups and created some of his fondest musical memories.
A special concert at the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs on Sunday, July 13, will celebrate Mr. Crohan’s 70th birthday and 50th year of performing on the Island. The program will feature Mr. Crohan on piano and many special guests from throughout his musical career.
Two things happened that first summer on the Island to change Mr. Crohan’s life. One was encountering Camp Jabberwocky, a summer camp in Vineyard Haven for people with disabilities. The other was going out to eat with his family at Monroe’s restaurant in Oak Bluffs on their last night on the Island.
Monroe’s regular pianist hadn’t showed up yet for the season. “So I played, and basically took over the bar, and the owner of the place wanted to hire me right then,” Mr. Crohan said. “I was 17 years old and my mother wouldn’t allow it,” he added. “But it set the whole ball going.”
Mr. Crohan moved to the Island soon after and quickly established himself as the local piano man, playing nightly gigs and occasional concerts around the Island. He started performing at the Tabernacle in 1964 during a community sing-a-long, when the regular musical accompaniment hadn’t shown up.
“I just fell in love with it, and it’s such a marvelous place to play,” he said. “So the next year I billed my first concert there.” “I’m very close to being the person who has given more concerts in the Tabernacle than any living person,” he said. “Because every year I did one and quite often I did two a season. So multiply that over 50 years and it’s quite a lot.”
He was also a regular at the Rare Duck, a bar in Oak Bluffs, for six or seven years before starting his own restaurant, David’s Island House, in 1978. He performed throughout the 1990s at the Harbor View Hotel, and has offered concerts at the Whaling Church in Edgartown, and Union Chapel in Oak Bluffs.
Those concerts “represent some of the most fun and sublime musical moments of my life,” he said. “I’ve not gotten rich from it, but I’ve gotten immense joy from everything I’ve done in a musical way — and almost every other way.”
In 2003, Mr. Crohan moved to Palm Beach, Fla., to accept a nightly residency at Café L’Europe. “So I’m now able to have the best of both worlds,” he said. “Summers here and winters in Palm Beach. It doesn’t get any better.”
Mr. Crohan pointed out last week that Schumann often wrote for two pianos, realizing that most people did not have access to an orchestra. He will be joined on Sunday by Henry Santos, his piano teacher at Perkins, for the Schumann concerto. (Incidentally, Mr. Santos was roommates with Martin Luther King Jr. at Boston University in the 1950s.)
“We have not played this piece, or anything else together in 52 years,” Mr. Crohan said. “And it’s very moving to both of us because we’ve seen each other several times over the years, but I haven’t kept in touch with him as well as I should have.”
At Perkins, Mr. Crohan’s teachers insisted that he study classical music and learn to read music braille — efforts that Mr. Crohan resisted, but later embraced as he realized that he could only learn so much by ear. He later received three degrees in classical music at the New England Conservatory.
Mr. Crohan loves jazz and popular music and is looking forward to improvising with some of his guests on Sunday. A set of classical music will be followed by a more loosely organized set featuring Carolyn Sky on vocals, Merrily Fenner on guitar, Wade Preston on piano, former band mates and others.
“Nobody — most of all me — seems to want to plan it that far in advance,” he said. “So I don’t know exactly what it’s going to be like.”
As a rule, Mr. Crohan’s concerts benefit institutions or local charities. Sunday’s concert will benefit the Perkins School for the Blind and the New England Conservatory (the two institutions that Mr. Crohan said had the biggest influence on his life) along with Island Elderly Housing and the Martha’s Vineyard Cancer Support Group.
His other performances this summer will include a fundraiser at Camp Tulgey Wood in Nantucket, which grew out of Camp Jabberwocky, and evening performances at The Boathouse, a private club in Edgartown. He also plans to do a concert at Union Chapel before he leaves the Island.
“Some of it’s vacation, some of it’s work,” he said, adding that “everything about what I do is always pleasure. So pretty much it’s a vacation.”