A fter Toddler Tunes is over, while they’re packing up plastic bags of Cheerios and buckling squirmy toddlers into strollers, parents might just catch a glimpse of guitarist Robert Messore’s other life.
This particular crowd knows Messore as a master of children’s songs, performing rousing renditions of “You Are My Sunshine” and making silly faces while he “Skips To My Lou.” After the performance, however, he occasionally delves into something a little more complicated—just messing around on his guitar the way musicians often do. Listen, especially during these unstructured moments, and it’s clear: this guy can play.
Messore is a mainstay in the New Haven area music scene. He can hold his own with breathtaking solo guitar work, but his musical life is hardly solitary. Messore, who organizes the St. John’s coffeehouse events at St. John’s Episcopal Church, has joined long lineups at the CT Folk Festival, plays cantina and barn dances with flute-fiddle-guitar trio Wry Bread and partners with vocalists for special shows at spots like Lyric Hall in Westville and The Space in Hamden, is known for collaboration and gathering.
All of that is in addition to studio work and solo shows. His various gigs pay for rent and insurance, something that remains an unattainable dream for so many creative individuals.
Music wasn’t always the plan, however. Back in 1995, after graduating from Hampshire College with a degree in Cognitive Science, then moving to New Haven, Messore, who is originally from Connecticut, assumed he’d get a PhD. After all, if you’re already studying something like psycholinguistics—Messore’s specialty while in school—you’ve pretty much locked yourself into academia.
“But then life happened,” Messore says. At the time, his grandmother was experiencing health problems, and as he hadn’t yet finalized further education or career plans, he offered to help her out. Caring for her yielded an unusual schedule, so Messore turned to his musical background as a means of making some money.
He had worried that utilizing that talent to pay the bills would turn him against it. “I thought it would ruin it for me, if music was my job,” he says. Little by little, though, he started booking gigs, expanding his connections and building up his skill set, including doing his own PR. Messore eventually made a name for himself throughout Connecticut and beyond.
So how’d a solo guitarist who does everything from jazz to folk to rocking out end up playing to the sippy cup set?
He adopted the gig from Peter Roger, who started Toddler Tunes at St. John’s in the East Rock neighborhood in 1991. Messore has been leading the bi-weekly program—on Wednesday mornings and Sunday afternoons—for nearly ten years.
“I had no idea how much I would love doing kids’ music,” says Messore. “I feel like everyone should have a job where they get to have three-year-olds smile at them.”
Planned career move or not, the kids adore him, and so do their parents. As moms, dads and their young children gather for Toddler Tunes, Messore offers friendly hellos with a wide smile and warm eyes. He enthusiastically strums and sings, and if he ever tires of playing the same songs each week, he doesn’t show it. Instead, he’s dancing with the tots who congregate at his feet. He’s throwing his hands in the air. He’s doing the Hokey Pokey.
No, this is not exactly the way he thought life would turn out. But as he walks through his East Rock neighborhood, a familiar figure with guitar slung over shoulder, all is right in his world.
“One of my favorite things about music is I can really use it as a way of loving people,” Messore says. Judging by the reaction of audiences at Toddler Tunes and at his other frequent New Haven-area performances, the feeling is mutual.
Artist Website | Toddler Tunes
Written by Cara McDonough.