Adam P. Newton recently became a father for the first time, so he has decided to explain the entirety of post-WWII Western pop music to his new daughter, "Fig"...one genre at a time. Every other week, he also chats with child-rearing Houston musicians.
How’s it going, Fig? This week, we’re chatting with an old friend of mine, Meghan Hendley-Lopez. I met her through Lance Higdon several years ago when he first formed the band Golden Cities. A classically trained pianist, she’s spent several years plying her trade in a variety of bands — some pop, some rock, some ethereal and some downright eclectic. Over the course of our conversation, we covered topics such as when to take your kids to their first live concert, that magical moment when you connect with your first instrument, and the perfect time to begin a kid on music lessons. Enjoy!
Houston Press: How would you describe the role of music growing up in the Hendley household?
Meghan Hendley-Lopez: I heard so many various sounds, including the music from my dad's band that was very psychedelic in nature while I was in the womb. Some of my earliest memories were the living-room dance sessions I had with my parents to such artists as Talking Heads, U2, Peter Gabriel, Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix, Mozart, B-52s and Miles Davis, just to name a few. There are some rather cute and hilarious VHS tapes of me playing air guitar to Jimi Hendrix with wild abandonment around the age of two. This eclectic mix continued throughout my childhood and teen years.
When did you first become interested in playing music? How encouraged were you in those pursuits by your friends and family?
My second sister really wanted to play piano, and therefore I was also placed in piano lessons, somewhat begrudgingly, I might add. Vividly, I remember experimenting around on the upright piano my parents rented for us. The connection I had with the keys was instant. In piano lessons, I breezed through every lesson book and piece. I also started voice lessons and theory lessons to add more knowledge to my creative arsenal.
Within two years, I had consumed so much of a musical education, thus putting me at a five-plus-year level. Music was like a language I always knew how to speak but never had uncovered until then. It was apparent to many it was a God-given talent. In my sophomore through senior years of high school, I attended both American Festival for the Arts and Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music. My parents and friends supported me every step of the way. A continuous support system led me to music school at the University of Houston, majoring in piano and composition.
As someone who is classically trained, when did you decide to push those talents into making rock music?
I started going out to concerts at various venues and meeting people at Fitzgerald's, Avant Garden and Warehouse Live, just to name a few. Two of those people happened to be David Garcia and Jeff Crowder, two Houston music staples. They asked me if I would be willing to compose string-quartet parts for a record they were working on with Deep Ella.
Shortly after recording, the guys asked if I would be willing to play some gigs with them on keyboard and backing vocals. I ended up performing with the band for a while before I moved on into other genre realms, the next project being Golden Cities. During my time with this band, I felt my musical journey come full circle in a way, for the same music I was writing and performing was of the same style of what I heard in the womb. I bet the womb had better reverb for ambient psychedelic than all the other venues I played in combined! (chuckles) Playing in bands has taken me across the country, to SXSW and to Bonnaroo.
How has having kids changed your relationship with music and being a musician? Does it affect how you create and engage music?
I am most fortunate to have a husband, Felipe Lopez, who is artistic in both the visual arts and in music. When we met, we found out he had the knowledge of electronic music from attending Dubspot academy in NYC, and I was a classically trained musician wanting to step more into those realms. One of the cornerstones of our relationship is collaboration, and we've written tracks upon tracks in Ableton Live and other programs. When I became pregnant with my first child, I had to step back from long rehearsals on my feet and shows, but my husband always made sure I worked on music at home, most times in the wee hours of the morning. I love him for that.
As a parent, I’ve found that my music is better than it's ever been. My mind jumps to the right melodies, textures and composition arrangements so much faster these days. Perhaps this time is so precious and sessions are shorter so I make every note count. Even though I'm not attending shows as frequently as I used to, I find that my mind is clearer to hear my own styles and sounds.
Also, as our family has grown, so has the love and so has the energy. It's definitely apparent in our tracks. Being a wife and mother is the greatest gift ever, accompanied by the sounds of music. As for the previous days, I do miss the stage, a band and the crowds, so hopefully I will be back in the live music circuit again. And since we’ll be doing it together, the kids can shout from the audience, "That's my mom!"
Has parenthood affected how and why you enjoy music? Have you shifted into teacher/influencer mode, or do your little ones enjoy the same music as Mom and Dad?
Parenthood has made me enjoy music more twofold. One way is the art of discovery. I think my husband and I are opening up new types of music more, experimenting to see what the kids like and what they are drawn to naturally. The other way is the art of rediscovery. Favorites new and old are brought back and enjoyed again through showing the kids by dance and singing.
As for your second question, it is a bit of both. Through this style of learning, we’ve discovered that our daughter most likely has perfect pitch! Once music lessons start later on, we shall confirm this.
What are your thoughts on bringing kids to live-music events? When is the right age for that first show? When is definitely too young?
I think that if it’s the appropriate venue, then as long as the kid can be engaged, kids should most definitely be at live-music events. Also, parents shouldn’t worry about attending a whole performance at first. Go to a symphony concert, but just stay for the first piece, then later the first half.
As for children of younger ages and beyond, there are so many places to hear music outdoors, in restaurants, and other places that are more relaxed. Take, for example, our daughter loves the bluegrass night at Hickory Hollow. Our son loves acoustic music that can be heard in so many venues. These are great warmups for actual concerts as they get older.
Have you given much thought to how your children will experience music on their own terms? What might that musical education look like?
As for them experiencing music on their own terms, I think allowing them access to something like Apple Radio and suggesting genres will be an exercise to see what they like. Already we switch up genres so much during a given period of time, and we will continue to do so as they get older, pausing and exploring a genre when they say, “Hey, I dig this!”
As for their musical education, we’ve already begun exploring the piano and percussion. Penelope was laying her arms and hands on the keys, drawing out long notes since she was two months old. Miniature lessons will come soon.
When is the right time to begin music lessons? Do you wait for your child to show an interest, or do you start him or her in hopes a connection is made? And what instruments do you hope to show your kids first (besides the instruments you already keep around the house, like your piano)?
As a piano [teacher], the youngest student I taught was three and a half. We did 15-minute lessons, mostly centered around rhythm, singing and identifying notes. This was a great way to give someone of that age an introduction and instill a love of music without overwhelming them. In my case, if I weren't enrolled into piano lessons, I would have never known I had the talent.
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I am a firm believer that everyone should try to play an instrument at least once and have an excellent teacher who makes the learning process fun. As a teacher, I have children improvise and compose even at an early age. In all other arts, children instantly create, and music is often the opposite. I found that the kids enjoy any type of creating, even if it’s with my assistance.
As for instruments, we are using a lot of various percussion instruments that are accessible to little hands. It’s also fascinating, for our girl has the ability to draw out noise from almost any object. You’ll often find her at the park tapping metal and wood to hear the sounds. In addition to the piano, I hope to bring in a guitar or string instrument as they get older. It will be good motivation for me to learn another instrument!
What songs and styles of music do your kids respond best to when you play it? What do they NOT enjoy? And do they prefer Mom and Dad playing it on real instruments or on the stereo?
Both our little girl and boy were born to the music of Brian Eno. Anything ambient, dream-like and somewhat synthy is always a crowd-pleaser. Our little girl loves electronic music, full bands and classical. Since she was a newborn, she loved the groove of beats. Our little boy is more of the traditionalist with favorites in opera, acoustic and folk. When he was four days old, he heard Luciano Pavarotti for the first time. His eyes lit up and he smiled! They both also love Gregorian chant, often heard at our church.
There’s not much they don’t enjoy, but our boy isn’t a fan of bad rap. It makes him scream. They both love my voice, and it can calm them in almost any situation. Using the piano or keyboard is always a plus; our girl often jumps on my lap to play along. When using the stereo, they often encourage me to sing along or clap the rhythm. For them, it is already about the participation and act of making music. Those moments make our hearts very happy.