Music Hall dries out, targets bigger, younger audience

By Stephanie Chelf, Staff writer
Originally published April 22, 2007 in the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune

METHUEN – Not again, thought Edward Sampson.

As local rivers rose last week, memories of last spring’s flood came rushing back to Sampson, president of the Methuen Memorial Music Hall.

The music hall on Broadway was one of the sites hardest lit last May, its basement filling up with more than five feet of water. The all-volunteer Board of Trustees has been rebuilding the hall ever since.

Luckily, the hall escaped any flooding last week, allowing the board to focus on the continuing cleanup and the hall’s new season.

The season begins in May with events aimed at bringing in more revenue and attracting a new, younger audience to the historic hall.

“We always say this, but the music hall is such a hidden gem,” said board member Sarah Consentino. “We’re trying to raise visibility and diversify our audience. We want to have something for everyone – families, younger people.”

The music hall will have youth-focused events, silent movie nights and a gala spring fling later this month.

“We want to give people what they expect of us,” Sampson said. “And we’re trying to outreach more by expanding. This is the most we’ve ever done in that regard.”

While patrons listen to music played on the hall’s celebrated pipe organ, and enjoy wine and dancing at events, repairs to the basement continue. The Music Hall still has a long way to go in finishing an estimated $150,000 worth of repair work there.

This week, workers were removing paint from the walls of the basement to expose granite and brick.

“Those walls were original granite slabs, then red brick. It has been painted over the years,” Sampson said. “Behind all that paint, we don’t know the condition of the mortar. Once (it’s done), we can ascertain what areas need to be re-pointed.”

Preventing major damage from another major flood has been one focus of the rebuilding process. The basement, which serves as an artist room, dressing room and meeting space, will be better equipped to handle large amounts of water, Sampson said.

“We had been well prepared over the years for tolerating typical floods, about 8 inches of water,” Sampson said. “We were completely overwhelmed by 64 inches of water in the hall (last year). That taught us more than anything that any further work had to be done in context of how tolerant it would be of additional flooding.”

The basement will have stronger sump pumps, and walls made of cement and granite instead of wood. The music hall will also look at improving drainage outside, Sampson said.

Materials stored in the basement will likely be kept off the floor.

The music hall has collected more than $43,000 in donations to help cover flood damage and other repairs. The board has also applied for a $40,000 Massachusetts Historical Commission grant to repair its leaking roof.

The Gomidas Organ Fund has donated $25,000 to support the creation of an artist room in the basement. The room will be named after famous organist Berj Zamkochian, who died in 2004, Sampson said.

For event information or to reserve tickets, call the hall at 978-685-0693. Tickets are sold at the door for all events.

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