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Childsplay in concert - ‘Fiddlers, Fiddles and Fiddlemaker’

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Fiddle supergroup Childsplay, led by revered fiddle-maker Bob Childs, will perform their first-ever Bangor concert on Friday November 17 at Gracie Theatre at Husson University. Fiddle supergroup Childsplay, led by revered fiddle-maker Bob Childs, will perform their first-ever Bangor concert on Friday November 17 at Gracie Theatre at Husson University. (Photo by Niko Alexandrou)

BANGOR - A fiddle lover’s dream concert is set to grace the stage of the Gracie Theatre at Husson University when fiddle supergroup Childsplay performs its first concert in Bangor. The show is set to take place on Friday, November 17 at 7:30 p.m. as part of a limited series of tour dates in the Northeast. 

Childsplay is led by world-renowned violin maker Bob Childs and is comprised of the best of the best violinists, cellists, violists, harpists, singers and step-dancers from the world of Celtic music, coming from the United States and from around the globe.

The group’s name is derived from the fact that all of the musicians play violins and violas crafted by Childs, a luthier with a connection to Maine dating back to the mid-1970s when he was a furniture maker at a shop on the Airline Road in Amherst.

“I was also a fiddle player and I needed to have my violin repaired, so I took it to a man named Ivie Mann in Orrington,” Childs said during a phone interview from his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

“When I went back to pick up my violin, I noticed that Ivie had some wood laid out on a bench. He turned to me and said ‘When are you coming back?’ I was a little confused because I hadn’t said anything about coming back. He pointed to the wood and I said ‘Oh, you mean you want to teach me how to make a violin!’ I took him up on his offer. He started me on the path of becoming a violin maker.”

Childs likes to think of himself as a fourth-generation Maine violin-maker.

“I was trained by Ivie, a beautiful and spirited man, originally from Aroostook County, who was also a great storyteller,” he explained. “Ivie was trained by Alvah Batchelder of Winterport and he was trained by his father who was a shipbuilder from Belfast.”

The instruments crafted by Childs are known for producing a deep, sweet and dark sound; they are much sought after - particularly by musicians from the world of Celtic music.

Although the group is named after him and features instruments crafted by him, Bob Childs says he did not launch Childsplay, but instead was invited to join the band in 1986.

“I was working in a shop in Philadelphia for the Philadelphia Orchestra and received a phone call one day to come down to Washington D.C. to play a concert,” he recalled. “Before the woman hung up, she said ‘By the way, the name of the group is Childsplay because everyone on stage is going to be playing one of your instruments.’ We had such a great time that we’re still doing it 31 years later.”

Childsplay consists of 19 world-class musicians from the United States, Canada and Ireland; that number includes several players from Maine.

“The sound that we’ve come up with is kind of our signature sound,” Childs said. “It’s the sound of a lot of beautiful harmonies and interesting rhythmic undertones. This really is like a family. There have been some amazing friendships and relationships developed among the band members over the years.”

Childsplay’s all-star lineup includes all-Ireland fiddle champion Sheila Falls, National Scottish fiddle champion Hanneke Cassel, Boston Symphony violinist Bonnie Bewick, fiddler and singer Lissa Schneckenburger, New England Scottish Fiddle Champion Katie McNally, Irish flute player Shannon Heaton and multi-instrumentalist Keith Murphy.

Irish folk singer Karan Casey will be the featured vocalist during this Childsplay tour and will be joined by featured dancers Kieran Jordan and Kevin Doyle.

According to Childs, the lion’s share of the selections performed by Childsplay will be original band compositions.

“You will also hear a couple of traditional pieces and even a couple of selections by Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell,” he said. “I think people will really like those. Karan does a beautiful job with them.”

During our conversation, Childs stressed the high-level of musicianship that the members of Childsplay bring to the stage.

“Everyone in this band is used to being the head of their own bands,” he said. “But everyone has so much fun playing and learning from each other, it becomes a really creative environment of learning and experimenting.”

For Childs, one of the personal joys he derives from a Childsplay concert is the awareness that some of the audience is experiencing the beauty of Celtic music for the first time.

“This music is not that easy to find,” said Childs. “You don’t find it on commercial radio. It really takes coming out and hearing a show before you really understand that it’s a traditional music, but it’s not an antique music. It’s very much alive and well.”

Childs feels that standing onstage and being enveloped by the sound of multiple instruments that he created is a bit like hearing the sound of his own children.

“I have a couple of kids and one of the hardest things to do is to let them go and let them be their own person,” he said. “So they have to leave home and you want them to come back and you want to see them and see how they are doing in the world. It’s kind of like these violins. You finish them and you trust they are going to be in a good home. You send them out into the world and they come back.”

Following their November shows, Childsplay will begin recording their seventh album which they plan to follow up with a tour before embarking on a farewell tour in 2019.

“We are super excited to play these shows,” Childs said. “This will be our first show ever in Bangor and I am very excited to show the people there the music that we’re playing and introduce them to the very special sound of this group.”

(Tickets for Childsplay’s concert at the Gracie Theatre in Bangor on November 17 - as well as the following shows scheduled for Portland and Someville, MA - are available at www.Childsplay.org.)

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