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The Commons
The Arts

Makers and masters: Childsplay features violins crafted by Bob Childs

Childsplay will perform Friday, Nov. 30, at 8 p.m., at Landmark College’s Greenhoe Theatre, 1 River Road South, Putney. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at the Latchis Hotel in Brattleboro, at the door, or at

Originally published in The Commons issue #180 (Wednesday, November 28, 2012).

PUTNEY—What makes the musical ensemble Childsplay: Fiddlers, Fiddles and Fiddlemaker unique is that the group’s fiddlers and violinists all perform on instruments lovingly crafted by Bob Childs.

Childs’ stringed handiwork will be on display on Friday, Nov. 30 at Greenhoe Theatre at Landmark College when Childsplay will perform in concert.

The group features some of the best fiddlers in the world, from Boston Symphony violinists to Scottish and All-Ireland fiddlers (an Irish fiddle competition run by Comhaltas, the self described largest group involved in the preservation and promotion of Irish traditional music) and other musicians from all over the United States.

Supporting the 12 fiddlers on center stage is an all-star band, including an All-Ireland harpist, a driving rhythm section of guitar, banjo, bass and cellos, a virtuosic Irish flute player, step dancers, and the world’s foremost hambonist.

New to the group this year is Brattleboro fiddler and folk singer Lissa Schneckenburger, whose sound is celebrated in venues throughout New England.

Childs, also the ensemble’s artistic director, crafts instruments in his shop in Massachusetts, and has been at it for more than 35 years.

“It takes me about 200 hours to make an instrument, but putting all the other factors together, I can finish one in around two months.”

The only difference between a fiddle and a classic violin is in how the instrument is played. Fiddle playing is much more intense than violin playing, he says.

Moreover, as distinct from the classical violinist, fiddle players draw mainly from Scottish, Irish and American Appalachian musical traditions, he says.

Childs was introduced to violin making by skilled luthier, or maker of stringed instruments, Ivie Mann in Maine, where he grew up. He apprenticed six years with Mittenwald-trained violin makers Anton Smith and Michael Weller, and then set up his shop in Cambridge, Mass.

He says he drew his inspiration for his craft from his own difficult early years. As Childs writes at his website (, after “my early years living in foster homes, and a dream I had in my 30s, after having finished my violinmaking training and having opened up my own shop: I am trying to enter a country in Europe. Border guards tell me that I must stop at the customs house. Once inside, I am led through a series of rooms until I come to one that is totally dark except for a single light shining on a table. The guard points to a violin lying on the table and motions for me to pick it up. I do as I’m asked, and when I turn the violin over, I see, inlaid in its back, an image of a small boy crying.”

To Childs, the dream integrates voice with violin as “part of my own maturation, as well as that of Childsplay. The revelation [is] that there is a power in words, that one’s capacity for expression can keep developing, especially when you are around people who constantly encourage and inspire you to explore the means of expression,” he writes.

In addition to traditional and contemporary Irish, Québécois, Cape Breton, bluegrass, Appalachian, and Scandinavian fiddle music, Childsplay is well versed in jazz, swing, and classical music. The group tours about twice a year.

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