SEPTEMBER 27, 2009
‘Guitar Bob’ is learning new tricks of the trade
Bob Messano is living that old adage about what to do when handed a bunch of lemons. He teaches.
A former kindergarten teacher and long-time performer and songwriter, Messano has jumped back into performing full-time. Teaching and music are a natural combination, he said.
“I’ve come full circle,” he said. “I was a full-time children’s performer. I did that for 10 years. In the next phase I had a teaching certificate and launched my business, then and it grew and grew and grew. So at a certain point I went back to school and earned a master’s in early childhood education and began teaching. I taught in Roxbury for eight years and now decided to commit to performing and a recording career again.”
This time out, Messano, known professionally as “Guitar Bob,” said there is a changed landscape.
“In the old days, I’d mail out something and say ‘call me if you want to hire me,’ and everything is wonderful,” said Messano. “Now it’s mail, e-mail, social networking, Web sites, personal contacts, whatever it takes. I miss the simpler days.”
It’s not that he is not working. He has events scheduled Oct. 22 and Oct. 24 in Springfield and a Oct. 30 Halloween event in Jefferson. He has a CD to promote, “Guitar Bob’s Activity Songs.”
It’s just that many of his old venues are not hosting events.
For the man who said, “I have probably played in every church basement in the region,” coming back into the performance business has been a learning experience. Schools and libraries, which were his bread and butter, exist on tighter budgets, he said. Instead of arranging a performance a day over the phone, there are committee meetings and group decisions.
There needs to be a line here about old dogs and new tricks.
Messano is learning the new tricks.
His Web site, www.guitarbob.com, provides a prime initial point of contact. He is using social media and professional media such as LinkedIn.com, where, he said, to his amazement, his profile generated 50 connections in two days, including former colleagues and students.
“I’m operating the business in new ways,” Messano said. “There is as much opportunity as you can create.”
It doesn’t hurt that Messano has written hundreds of songs and can package a performance based on the interests of the promoter.
He also has started performing at events to support certain causes. The Oct. 24 show at the Springfield YMCA, he said, will support the organization’s program that helps families who might not otherwise be able to purchase memberships.
“That is a program that resonates with me,” Messano said.
A skilled guitarist and prolific song writer, Messano starts with a folk, rock or blues base and creates seemingly simple melodies, but ones that have subtext.
Since he is writing for a kindergarten-age audience, the lyrics are repetitive, but not overly simple. He occasionally drops in a big word that might get the young listeners to ask a question about the meaning.
Messano said kindergarten kids have the widest developmental range of any school class. He said at any point he could be teaching children with developmental levels from ages 2 to 7.
He used music in the classroom often.
“Music is motivating,” he said. “Everyone needs to participate.”
During any school day, he said, he would hear children singing to themselves.
The songs are also written to generate movement in the young listeners, Messano said.
“I accept what kids like to do, what their world is,” he said. “I can connect with them, especially with the music and movement songs about shaking, dancing.”
The latest CD has songs about farm animals and pretending to move like they do, or about playing baseball or climbing trees.
“I don’t sing down to them,” Messano said. “But I use language that is challenging and involves concepts they should know. ‘Sam the Clam’s Blues’ is about cleaning up the beach, but from the clam’s point of view.”
Messano said that at a recent outdoor performance in Chatham, with children eating Popsicles and throwing the wrappers on the ground, when they got to the part of the song about cleaning up the beach, all the kids started picking up the wrappers.
“Parents looked on in amazement,” he said. “It was not just a song, but something they can internalize.”
He writes songs from inspiration, not a plan, Mesaano said.
“There is a kid in me,” he said. ‘Captain Cocoanut’ is about a pirate adventure. A lot of the songs are about travel. Many are thematically based – farm animals and sounds and natural connections to life.”
Messano said he wrote many of his songs when his three children, now teenagers or near teens, were younger. The songs were about “being a dad and doing things with them.”
But new times call, for new tricks, he said.
He said a friend comes over often for jam sessions. He wondered if there was not a business opportunity there.
Guitar Camp, he said.
Maybe record and edit a CD of the session.
Maybe a podcast.
Michael Daigle: 973-267-7947 or firstname.lastname@example.org