Bartering and Belly Laughs: 5 Questions with Melissa Levis of Moey’s Music Party

Our first winter living in New York City, I was feeling down in the gutter with the truck traffic, cigarette butts, and exhaust fumes.  But after going to a Moey’s Music Party class with my son, I concluded that Moey is hot chocolate for the soul.

Her exuberance, natural warmth, and sparkly get-ups were enough to obliterate gray gloom — or any sort of bum mood.

Singer-songwriter and friend, Melissa Levis (Moey) is now bringing “joy to YouTube,” as her fans put it, with songs from her soon-to-be-released DVD and CD, Happily Ever Moey!, a musical retelling of classic tales with a modern twist including “The Little Mermaid,” “The Ugly Duckling,” and “The Three Little Pigs.”

With award-winning off-Broadway shows under her belt, Melissa can transform fairytales with her catchy tunes and silly lyrics.  I love how the prince in the Princess in the Pea is annoyed by the primadonna royals:

A pea beneath their mattress makes these girls say ouch?
The girl that I’ll marry will sleep on a pull-out couch!

Melissa clearly has a comic gift, which does not go unappreciated by parents and nannies, when sometimes the most amusing thing all day can be Cheerios tumbling from high chairs.

“Goldilocks did something rude.  She went in the bears’ house and ate up all their food. When she ate their food like that, she destroyed their habitat,” goes “Leave the Bears Alone,” Melissa’s kid-friendly nod to environmentalism. Her Little Red Riding Hood speaks to womens’ lib with the girl giving the woodcutter a judo kick, and Sleeping Beauty kisses herself because “snoring is boring.”

And the prince from the Princess and the Pea?  He falls for a princess who donates her 20 mattresses to the homeless and chooses to sleep on a king-size futon.

I interviewed Melissa recently on how she saves money, even as a glittery guitar-toting mom in New York City.

1. What is one of the most fun frugal things you’ve done?

My husband and I get our money’s worth with childcare by hiring a babysitter during the day instead of at night.  We have more energy during the day (and so does our son), so why pay a babysitter to sit on our couch while he sleeps?

We used to have a standing date on Saturday afternoons.   Ideally we do active dates as opposed to passive movie dates or meal dates. One of our favorite adventures was going to a Greenwich Village wig store. I was always curious how I’d look as a blond, so I tried on the Marilyn Monroe model. My husband said I looked like George Washington!

2. Do your values or your personality affect your spending habits?

I find that I spend a lot more when I think it’s for business than I do when it’s just for me. In other words, I can justify spending $400 at Staples and Costco, but I feel much more frugal at Bloomingdale’s.

3. What is it okay to splurge on in your household?

Food and tuition!

4. Do you identify with the expression, “Less is more”?

Living in New York City, we are culture rich, closet poor. Every time I wistfully look at a toy, book, or pair of shoes, I ask not only if it is worth the money but if it’s worth the closet space. That usually keeps me frugal!

5. In your field, what is an insider’s trick for saving money?

I love to barter. My dad is from Athens, Greece — a culture that feels very comfortable bartering, and I guess I inherited that trait. I love bartering a semester of my music classes (worth $650) with moms who are graphic designers, stylists, illustrators, photographers, etc.

The woman who designed my Moey’s Music Party CD was taking time off from work while her girls were young and took my music class. We worked out a barter where I paid her cash plus a birthday party performance in exchange for her beautiful design.

I remember wanting to enrich my son with classes when he was young but in New York the typical class is $43 a session! So, bartering works out very well for the moms and me — plus we become great friends!

Another tip I’ve discovered is: instead of buying instruments, make them!

As a mom and preschool music teacher, it’s my goal to show parents that music is everywhere. By being resourceful, parents can enrich their children with tons of homemade instruments. Not only is it inexpensive and eco-friendly, it reinforces the notion that music and creativity is entwined in the fabric of everyday life.

At each Moey’s Music Party class, I introduce a different instrument that relates to the special party theme. Sometimes I pass out homemade instruments and show parents how to create their own versions at home.

For our Spring Garden Party, we use rain sticks made out of paper towel tubes, rice, construction paper, and stickers. For our Jungle Safari Party, we turn Chinese take-out containers into drums. At our Beach Bash Party, we shake homemade water bottle maracas.

One of my favorite musical masterpieces was inspired by 24 extra pink and purple leopard print ‘Girls Rock’ dessert plates from Oriental Trading Company that I over-ordered for a party. Rather than throw them out, I inverted the edges of the plates, put a few elbow macaroni on top of the bottom plate, added some pink and purple curling ribbon to give it that gypsy feel, then glued it shut with a glue gun.

The fun thing about making your own instruments is that you can personalize and decorate them to your heart’s content. I love to challenge myself to find creative uses for left-over art supplies and household items.

Moey (a.k.a. Melissa Levis) has entertained thousands of children at FAO Schwarz, The New York Public Library, The Tribeca Film Festival and more. She created Central Park’s Sandbox Sing-Along Series, performing more than 25 concerts in playgrounds throughout Central Park and earning the moniker “the Pied Piper in Pink.” She currently leads Moey’s Music Party classes for infants, toddlers and preschoolers at the New York Junior League, and this summer in Central Park. You can find her at Moey’s Music Party.

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  • Bob March 23, 2011, 12:36 am

    Such a lovely story. You are an excellent writer. Great job!