Lennie Peterson (Photo/Samantha Larocque)
By Ed Karvoski Jr., Culture Editor
Grafton/Scituate – Lennie Peterson began striving to blend his passions for music and visual art when he grew up in Grafton and has continued through his relocation to Scituate. He’s now sharing his experience of working multiple decades as a musician, visual artist and arts educator via public speaking engagements.
Perhaps those skills were inherited from his father Clifford, a musician, and late mother Shirley, an artist.
“I attribute equal interest in music and visual art to my bloodline and upbringing,” Peterson noted. “My earliest memory of art appreciation is looking forward to the newspaper comics every day as a kid.”
Peterson constantly created drawings as a preschooler, took piano lessons at age 6 and trombone at 10. While playing with the Grafton High School (GHS) jazz band, he also performed with his own ensemble at local churches.
“I split my time between music and art,” he acknowledged. “My main interest was drawing. A great GHS art teacher, Donald Dodd, latched onto that and took me under his wing.”
Dividing attention between art forms was simplified for Peterson thanks to a second mentor. He also studied with private music teacher George Robinson in Westborough.
“Besides my parents, they most influenced shaping what I’m doing now,” Peterson said.
After graduating from GHS in 1975, Peterson attended Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in composition and performance in 1979. After performing with a Grafton-based band, he returned to Berklee in 1986 as a teacher and ultimately assistant professor.
“My students would come to local clubs where I was playing and hang out,” he relayed. “Berklee was great for me as a student and teacher. It’s an all-encompassing music education.”
Since 1995, he’s been performing with the South-Shore-based band Clutch Grabwell and moved to Scituate in 2000. A recording session at Scituate resident-musician Rob Loyot’s studio led to Peterson joining the band Entrain. That band performs worldbeat and dance music at clubs, arts theaters and festivals throughout New England and beyond.
“Entrain appeals to all ages, especially at festivals,” Peterson said. “The minute we start playing, people brighten up and it crosses all boundaries.”
He stopped teaching at Berklee in 1997 to pursue freelance work, focusing first on his favorite childhood art form. Peterson’s nationally-syndicated comic strip “The Big Picture” appeared daily in over 100 newspapers from 1999 to 2005, and got published as a book collection. Now, “The Big Picture” is available online at www.GoComics.com.
Among notable venues where Peterson has performed music internationally, he cites two as particularly memorable.
”The Sydney Opera House was my first big show and sold out for five consecutive nights,” he said. “It was also incredible to play at New York City’s Carnegie Hall in the footsteps of so many legends.”
Every Sunday, he performs at Catholic churches in Hanover and Norwell. In 2016, he and a guitarist accepted a priest’s invitation to join the parishes’ Life Teen group at World Youth Day, a 10-day international teens’ pilgrimage with Pope Francis to Krakow, Poland.
“Imagine a Christian music festival taking over an entire city with 1.5 million teenagers,” Peterson said. “We played daily, from little chapels to cathedrals, and the main event where the pope appeared.”
From 2011 to 2013, Peterson exhibited 10 large portraits of music composers at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. Similarly, he merges the art forms when presenting his public speaking engagements.
“My life mission now is to blend visual art with music,” he said. “For me, it’s magic when they both come together.”