Melissa Levis might be making music for children, but her songs are so much more than encouraging kiddos to get up and dance. As the creator, songwriter, and lead singer of the group Moey’s Music Party, Levis has learned that empowering children to be their best selves through song is her true calling. Melissa spoke with us about how Moey’s Music Party came to be (hint: it had a lot to do with the birth of her son, Monty), being the niece of the late great American playwright Wendy Wasserstein, and why every girl should grow up to be an Uncommon Woman.
What were you doing prior to your career as Moey?
I’ve been a professional songwriter since I graduated from Brown University. After a year singing in Europe, I moved to New York City and was a singer/songwriter at downtown venues like Mercury Lounge and the Bottom Line. I created a business writing and performing custom songs for special events. I have written songs for a Prime Minister, Governor, publisher, actor, and brides and business mavericks galore. I went to New York University and earned an MFA in Musical Theatre Writing. I wrote and produced a musical that won several awards at the New York International Fringe Festival. It transferred to an Off-Broadway production when my son was an infant. Inspired by parenthood, I began writing songs for children and Moey’s Music Party was born.
Moey was my husband’s nickname for me. I grew up listening to School House Rock, Sesame Street, and Free To Be You and Me, so I always wanted to give back and write songs that would inspire kids the way those great songs influenced me. Every time my son would delight or frustrate me, I used it as fodder to write a new song. I spent three years as the music director of a New York City preschool and Early Childhood Learning Center, so I was fortunate to have the perfect focus group and sing my new material to 300 children each week. It really helped me understand what makes songs resonate with children.
What has been your musical evolution?
Moey’s Music Party has been a thriving, full time business for the past eight years. I left teaching at the preschool when my concert schedule became so packed. Central Park hired me to create their Sandbox Sing-along Series. I feel proud that after giving 26 concerts in the park, I grew their audience from 40 to 400 people per concert. My band is sponsored by Oriental Trading Company, the nation’s largest distributor of party supplies, and we perform for at venues including 92 Y Tribeca, Williamsburg Waterfront, VH1 Save the Music Family Day, the New York Public Library, FAO Schwarz and schools, museums, birthdays, and charity events galore.
I would never have become a children’s songwriter if my mom hadn’t made music such a fun thing to share as a family when I was little, so it’s very important to me to create opportunities for families to come together and enjoy music. I developed a 35-week curriculum of Moey’s Music Party classes for infants, toddlers, preschoolers and their caregivers that I’ve been teaching since 2006. This class introduces children to instruments, songs, dances, puppets, phonics, and musical story time based on a weekly party theme. I love the intimacy of these classes and getting to develop such a personal connection to children and their parents.
I have stayed true to my love of musicals, and I wrote and produced “Moey Live! P is for Party!” Off-Broadway in 2008. I’m very excited to be collaborating now with a Tony Award-winning producer who is turning my fairy tale songs into a family musical.
How has your music changed over the years?
My first CD was a celebration of the milestones in a child’s life during their first 5 years. It includes universal songs that all boys, girls, and parents can relate to like going potty, listening to parents, sharing, washing your hair, and trying new foods. My second release, Happily Ever Moey! A Fairy Tale Lark in Central Park, is a CD and DVD combination set. Inspired by reading classic fairy tales to my son, I wanted to update these evergreen stories and give them new endings that would be more relevant and inspiring for today’s children. Central Park is a real life enchanted forest and the perfect backdrop to bring these fairy tales to life. 65 children joined me to turn these stories into candy-colored music videos. Happily Ever Moey was named in the top 10 products at Toy Fair 2012 and won multiple awards from National Parenting Publications Association, Creative Child Magazine and more.
My 2012 CD, Princess Revolution! is a concept album that celebrates every girl’s strength, confidence, and sparkle. I want girls to embrace their love of princesses and bling, but know that they don’t need a fairy godmother, prince, or magic wand to rescue them. All 15 songs carry the message that girls can have confidence in their voice and individuality. I want girls to know they can slay their own dragons and wake themselves up with their own magical kiss. I was thrilled that the CD won a 2012 Parents’ Choice Gold Award. I love empowering children. I realized being Moey has given me a pulpit in front of thousands of kids and parents – I want to use it to not only entertain, but educate, inspire, and empower the 8-and-under set.
How would you describe your musical aesthetic?
I know how important it is for lyrics to include movement and interactivity, so many of our songs are call and response and include directions like jump, run, twirl, etc. My band is pretty rocking. The New York Times said my music was “more Joan Jett than Joni Mitchell” other reviewers have said we are like “Sesame Street Meets the Go-Gos.” We have a range from the rocking title song on Princess Revolution! to beautiful ballads like “Me and My Mom” on the first Moey’s Music Party CD.
How do you include your son into your work?
My son has been my muse throughout my career as Moey. He inspired all the songs on Moey’s Music Party, the debut CD and the stories we read together were on Happily Ever Moey. Once he became a big kid and started liking Big Time Rush more than Moey’s Music Party, I wrote Princess Revolution!
It was great to have a recording session with his 2nd and 3rd grade buddies. They sing on “Playground Rock Star.” It was really cool for them to be in our recording studio in Williamsburg.
How do you find your own work-life balance?
I am grateful that my schedule is flexible so I am always available for school events. I perform a lot on weekends, but my husband is very supportive and enjoys using these days as special ‘guy time’ for him and our son. I feel like every day is “Take my child to work” week because my band rehearses at our apartment. Monty has grown up at casting sessions, concerts, recordings, and meetings. It’s a very creative, bustling atmosphere and he has become a great musician.
Let’s talk about your latest album and how it compares to previous ones?
Playground Rock Star is my 4th CD and celebration of the energy and exuberance of preschool age kids. We look forward to collaborating with actual rock stars who are now parents. I love the collaborative spirit of “Free To Be You and Me” and thought it would be really fun to expand the pie and share the fun of performing with children with other ‘adult’ musicians.
Princess Revolution! was super fun – I love dressing up in my ball gown and producing princess balls at Bloomingdales and The New York Junior League and Tribeca Film Festival, but I have missed my boys. This CD is definitely for all little rockers – boys and girls! We are speaking with charities that are committed to building playgrounds nation wide. We would love to donate a portion of profits to the right charity.
What are your plans for the future, both personally and professionally?
Moey’s Music Party is one of NYC’s most belove children’s bands and I’m very excited that we are now becoming a national brand. Moey’s Music Party songs and videos are on Pandora, You Tube, Itunes, Amazon, etc. We are expanding into TV, digital, ebook, and picture books, CDs, classes, and musicals. I’m launching a Moey’s Music Party music show on my YouTube channel this summer. I am talking with production companies about developing an animated Princess Revolution! show and live action Moey’s Music Party show. An ebook company just optioned my song “Pierre Wouldn’t Wash His Hair” and I wrote a song for a video game. I would love to franchise my classes so that other musicians can lead them for kids in their communities across America.
You’re the niece to the late Wendy Wasserstein, who I loved. Can you describe your relationship with the great playwright?
Aunt Wendy was my very own Auntie Mame. She gave me a feather boa for my 8th birthday and an example that every girl can grow up to be an Uncommon Woman. I was so lucky as a child to be a guest at her glamorous opening night parties on Broadway. I feel that the empowering message in my Princess Revolution! album is a continuation of her legacy. I want every little girl to know that she is the Uncommon Woman of tomorrow.