On the surface, Meredith LeVande is a gregarious, fun children’s musician. Once you get to know her, though, you find that Meredith is quite soft-spoken, thoughtful, and a true champion for both women’s and children’s rights. In an exclusive interview with Celebrity Parents, Meredith spoke candidly about growing up in an extremely abusive household, her passion for women’s studies, and how she has rediscovered a happier childhood through her own children’s music.
Meredith, let’s talk about your background. From your own account, you had a very difficult childhood.
Where is your mother today?
My mother lives in a hospital. She’s been there since I was 15. I go visit her when I can. She always wanted me to sing to her. It was how I connected with her. At the hospital, she liked it when I would bring my guitar and sing “The Rainbow Connection” to her. I used to do a Christmas show for the patients.
It must be a painful experience for you.
It’s hard. Sometimes I see her and I say, “This is my mother and I should accept the moments of affection when they are there.” She was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder; it’s a combination of schizophrenia and manic depression. Her mental illness has slowed down with age, and now she is more cogent than she used to be. Had this happened to her today, I think her life could have turned out differently.
And your grandmother passed away when you were 15.
We were extremely close. I loved her so much. I was this young child and she was already 75 years-old when she began to take care of my sister and me. I would sleep in the bed with her; she was so special to me.
It’s interesting that you now perform music for children. How do you feel when you perform at these parties?
It is fascinating that I now play music every weekend for families who really value their children. It’s such a great contrast from how I grew up. It is definitely hard. It’s ironic that this is what I do with my life; that I had this totally bananas childhood but I think that makes me a different children’s singer. I think I get to relive my childhood in a way that I didn’t experience enough of. I’m in touch with something inside of me.
It seems to me that your children’s music helps you to right the wrongs you’ve experienced in your childhood.
Yes, you’re right. There’s a healing in it. My husband said to me, “Only you can do what you do. You’re getting to re-experience something important that you need.”
Talk about karma! Everything my childhood didn’t have, I now have with Craig. Peace, stability, happiness. He’s everything to me.
Now, were you always into music?
I had always loved music, but I didn’t have the means to pursue my craft. I was taking care of my mother, and then I was alone. I took out all these loans and went to college. It was then that I started to write and play guitar. I put out two albums as an adult singer/songwriter and I would perform at various colleges.
Let’s talk a bit about your second career as a lecturer in women’s studies.
It really helped me to break down what had happened to my mother. I wrote songs and I could see from my work that I was really female-centric. Colleges would often have me perform for women’s history month.
Then in 2003, I noticed how many images of sexually aggressive women there were in music. I started seeing the ubiquity of porn everywhere, fused it together and began lecturing on that topic. I did it for several years while I was performing music for kids, too.
It seems that the women’s studies and the children’s music are two major points of interest for you.
Absolutely. I love doing both. Recently, I’ve begun making music videos with the children, too. I really bonded with them. I feel so much love for these kids; I think about them and want to know they’re going to be okay. They can’t go to drama camp, so this gives them an opportunity to be creative. What makes it magical and special is the connection that I have with these children. It just shows.
How would you describe your musical style?
Very pop, very folk, very interactive. Most of the songs I’ve written are all about kids responding to what I do. The music grew out of having to engage children and make them happy.
“What Are The Odds?” is your second album. How does it compare to the first?
This CD is really zany, very upbeat but also brainy. I went through an intense period and a lot of these songs just wrote themselves. I put a lot of thought into my music. I use focus groups and work with the kids to see what they will like. Through my music, I’m influencing kids, so I have to put thought into it.
Through your studies and your music, have you begun your healing?
Yes and no. Sometimes we have to accept in life that this is no closure and that some wounds always remain open. But I am happy with my life. I have a friend who has written at the bottom of her emails: “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.” I put that feeling into my kids’ music. That’s how I look at it: Even though I can feel sad about something, if I can reach a child and see their soul, it’s an amazing thing.