PEM’s community group invites LA-based musician Gaby Moreno to perform at 18th century Salem house
Just as the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) is poised to open its long-awaited new wing in September, the museum is also making more use of its historic properties that dot Salem. On the warm evening of August 8, a crowd gathered at an 18th-century former assembly house on Federal Street for a historic house concert by a world-touring singer-songwriter and to see how the 1782 house has been lovingly refurbished.
GenPEM (Generation PEM) is a newly formed community at PEM, made up of museum lovers, artists, collectors, and professionals. In addition to special events and private tours at PEM, they meet up at creative businesses in Boston and on the North Shore, expanding outside the museum walls through a series of pop-up events designed to connect with artists through PEM’s Present Tense Initiative, led by Curator Trevor Smith.
“This is the spirit that PEM aspires to,” Smith told attendees at the sold-out house concert. They gathered in various rooms of the Cotting-Smith Assembly House to hear a blend of jazz, blues and 60’s rock and soul from Gaby Moreno, a 37-year-old, LA-based musician, born and raised in Guatemala, and her mega-talented band for the evening, a group of musicians from the Boston area. “Tonight, we’re turning this place back into a meeting house,” said Smith.
As a musician herself, Kerry Schneider, Communications Officer in PEM’s Development Department and the driving force behind GenPEM, loves tapping into her network of musical friends and into the growing trend of house concerts. “There is a warmth to the sound when there are wooden floors and smaller rooms that you can’t replicate in most venues,” she said. When she heard Moreno perform in LA five years ago, “time stood still,” said Schneider, adding that she would love to host concerts in each of PEM’s more than 20 historic houses. “The type of performances that feel successful are ones where the audience is attentive and appreciative of the artistry, human expression and subtlety of sound. House concerts allow the audience to see and hear every detail and the artist appreciates the attentiveness.”
I got to sit down with Moreno in the makeshift greenroom after her soundcheck to chat for a few minutes before she changed into a black dress with colorful flowers. “You can just breathe the history. It’s beautiful,” she said of the house, where George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette both danced the night away.
“It’s important to have those kinds of experiences where you can look people in the eye and sing the songs to them,” she said. “We shouldn’t lose these kinds of experiences. They are unique and it creates an intimacy, unlike any other musical experience.”
Later, audiences would understand why in 2013, Moreno received a Latin Grammy for Best New Artist. They were wooed by Morena’s lush voice, her lyrics in both English and Spanish and the mix of transportive music that filled each room and floated out into the garden.
“Creating GenPEM has been an entirely rewarding experience,” says Schneider. “By partnering with creative businesses and artists in our community, we have built a connection between their arena to ideas PEM is exploring.” While GenPEM generally attracts the next generation of PEM appreciators who crave both unique experiences and real-time social connections, the group welcomes all who are intrigued and “young at heart,” says Schneider.
“There’s so much to be excited about,” said Salem resident Caroline Cox, who sits on the GenPEM steering committee and walked two minutes from her house to the event. Cox and her husband were entertaining friends from Boston and excited to show them this unexpected fun evening in Salem. “It’s exactly the best way to spend a summer night,” she said.
GenPEM pop-ups are posted at pem.org/genpem. To be added to the invite list,email Kerry_Schneider@pem.org. GenPEM members receive discounted tickets to pop-ups, as well as all membership benefits. Join them for the Art Party on September 21 from 8-midnight, for the first public viewing of PEM’s new wing. Expect art, cocktails, music and food. Ticket sales support the museum.