Archive for the Childsplay Category

Childsplay: Waiting for the Dawn

Posted in Aoife O'Donovan, Childsplay, Lissa Schneckenberger, youtube on August 4, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

Bob Childs is a craftsman. Whether making music himself, or making instruments for other musicians… Childs takes to his task with care. He knows that a well crafted instrument is essential to creating a well crafted tune. That’s because Bob Childs is a master luthier (maker of stringed instruments). He’s been building violins for over three decades and has been playing them for even longer.

A brief history…
Childs began playing the violin as a teenager in Maine. Whenever his instrument was in need of repair, he would take it to local luthier Ivie Mann. Mann, who was 70 at the time, developed a friendship with the young Childs and offered to take him on as his first ever student. Childs continued to learn from Mann and others until he was able to set up a luthier shop of his own. His instruments are now in high demand have been played by a wide range of musicians from symphony performers to international fiddle champions.
In 1986, Childs received an invitation to perform with a group of seven violinists in Washington DC. Childs welcomed the opportunity to get out of his workshop and perform with one of his own instruments. He accepted the invitation. Only after he said yes, did Childs learn that the assembled musicians who had issued the invitation all played instruments he had built.
Childsplay was born.
These days, Childsplay’s cast of players can include as many as two dozen professional musicians at any given time. On the band’s fifth studio recording Waiting for the Dawn, no fewer than fourteen fiddlers form the core of a powerhouse ensemble, and blend their considerable skills and diverse influences to create a stunning collection of contemporary fiddle classics.
The music itself comes from the Emerald Isles of Ireland, the foothills of the Appalachians, the frigid Canadian Coast, and even the American pop charts. Original tunes from various band members sit side by side with traditional fare from around the globe and compositions from Steve Earle (“Christmas in Washington”), U2 (“Mothers of the Disappeared”) , and Elvis Presley (“Love Me Tender”). The result is a musical world tour that incorporates a wide range of sounds and styles. Somehow, they all blend seamlessly together.
Of course, the credit for that is due largely to the players themselves. The band boasts world class fiddlers and violinists who specialize in varying disciplines from all over the globe.
Just to name a few…
Hanneke Cassel is a former U.S. National Scottish Fiddle Champ with a degree from Berklee College of Music. Shelia Falls-Keohane won the All-Ireland Fiddling Championship at age fifteen and is now a part of the music faculty at Wheaton College. Bonnie Bewick is a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and has soloed with the Boston Pops. Lissa Schneckenberger is an accomplished folk singer/songwriter and a graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music (more on her later this week). Bob Childs plays on the album as well.
Irish and Scottish fiddle champs, symphony members, master luthiers, singer/songwriters… and that’s not even half the band.
This recording also marks the first time Childsplay has incorporated vocals on an album. To lend a voice to the music Childs turned to Aoife O’Donovan from contemporary bluegrass group Crooked Still (more on them later this week too…). O’Donovan is a solid choice here and sounds just as much at home on the traditional “Sweet Sunny South” as she does on Bono’s “Mothers of the Disappeared.” Her soaring voice is the perfect counterpoint to the instruments that surround it.
As for the band’s namesake and raison d’ĂȘtre Bob Childs… he is the only member of the ensemble who does not make his living as professional musician. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t keep busy. Childs still produces around six violins a year from his workshop in Cambridge, MA… spending roughly 200 hours constructing each piece. He also travels with Childsplay to various shows and festivals and will occasionally use the group to put on educational workshops to expose school children to violin and fiddle music. With those two endeavors, Childs ensures that there will always be a new generation of his instruments to play, and a new generation of artists to play them.
To illustrate Childsplays’ unique sound, I’m going to share with you the opening track from Waiting for the Dawn called, “Rattling Roaring Willie/The High Drive.” The song is a medley of a traditional Canadian folk song and a Scottish reel.
I’m also going to share a youtube video I found that features a medley of U2’s “Mothers of the Disappeared” with an original song from Hanneke Cassel called “Evenstar.” Cassel is featured on the violin in this video with O’Donovan on lead vocals.
You can find out more about Childsplay at childsplay.org.
Childsplay: Rattling Roaring Willie/The High Drive (Buy Album)