Childsplay return to SymphonySpace tonight, Nov. 18, 2016, so we thought we’d republish this piece. Karan Casey sings!

How It’s New York:  Childsplay are playing Symphony Space tonight, Dec. 1.  Symphony Space is one of the great places to hear music or literature in New York (Edna O’Brien read there with Selected Shorts; Mick Moloney recently presented his Tribute to Harrigan and Hart there, the Irish American Writers and Artists hold monthly readings at the Thalia café there).

How It’s Irish:  Many of the tunes they play are Irish, and some of their players come from that world, including flutist Shannon Heaton, and singer Aoife O’Donovan.  But it’s also pan-Celtic, with Scottish tunes, New England style music and even Swedish.  It’s Festive and Holiday and special.

Childplsay perform Thursday, Dec. 1 at 8 p.m., at the Peter Norton Symphony Space, 2537 Broadwa 95th St., NYC.  Tickets at or 212-864-5400

I like this group so much I’ve written about them for WSJ Speakeasy, Irish Music Magazine, Time Out, and Irish Examiner USA.  Here’s my most recent piece.  This group has a real wall of sound that, combined with their heartfelt folk music, will really lift you up.  Catch some holiday spirit!

WE HAVE A PAIR OF TICKETS TO GIVE AWAY TO THE SHOW TONIGHT.  Email us at with the name of the fiddle maker to claim them!

Childsplay are less an orchestra than a “fiddle choir,” says Bob Childs.  He’s a luthier, and all twelve fiddlers in the group, performing at Symphony Space  on Dec. 1, play fiddles that he made—hence the name.  Fiddles have unique voices, and fiddles made by the same person blend together like voices in a family singing group.  The fiddlers also come from different traditions.  Bonnie Bewick plays with the Boston Symphony; Sheila Falls-Keohane is an Irish fiddler, and Lisse Schneckenburger both plays New England/Scottish style.  And Bob Childs himself.  But that’s part of the appeal of the group, Childs explains:  everybody’s a little outside of their comfort zone and has to learn and work together.
 “Everyone is an all-star in their band, so there’s a great potential for harmony and rhythmic syncopation.  Everyone’s so talented, picking up the bow patterns and ornaments is very simple, they’re very good at it.  But they’re out of their home base of music, and it opens everybody up and makes for a very creative rehearsal time.”
The sound is completely dreamy.  It’s not like symphonic arrangements of trad music, nor like a string section; it’s just its own thing.  In addition to the fiddlers, the group includes all-Ireland harpist Kathleen Guilday,  Ralph Gordon on bass, Touchstone’s Mark Roberts, and others for a total of 22 players.   Step-dancers Nic Gareiss and Shannon Dunne will also perform.
This year the group is doing some Christmas music.  The group has often toured right after Thanksgiving and there’s a festive feel to their traditional sound, but they haven’t really done holiday tunes before.  There will be a couple of Irish Christmas tunes.

It’s the last outing for Aoife O’Donovan (Crooked Still) with the group, before she launches her solo career.  She’s sung with the group for nine years.  “She’s a breathy singer, and there’s something about the way she breathes that is in harmony with the violins,” Childs says.  Recently the singer has been touring with cellist Yo-Yo Ma.  And there are new pieces for this year’s tour, from guitarist Keith Murphy, flutist Shannon Heaton (who is also with the group Long Time Courting) and fiddler Hanneke Cassel.  Nic Gareiss is a new addition—his background is in Appalachian clogging, but has just finished a year of immersion in step-dancing in Ireland as well.  Folding Nic in has been a fascinating thing.  
 “He’s a musician’s dancer; he can really dance to the tune.  His eclectic background gives him the ability to lock in.  Shannon Dunne is more of a Sean Nos dancer, so it will b a lovely combination.”

Childs, who has been making fiddles for 35 years,  didn’t actually found Childsplay.  He got an invitation to play in a concert down  in Washington, D.C., and it was only when he got there that he saw everyone was playing one of his fiddles.  They invited him to be part of it.  “We haven’t stopped since,” he says.  That was 26 years ago.

The group has toured Sweden, because Childs has six violins in Sweden.  At this year’s concert, they will play a Swedish piece.  “That’s a good example of where we can go as a band,” he says.
 “Swedish fiddling is really rhythmic so the technique is a little different, there are different beats.  The emphasis is on the one and the three, which makes for a hypnotic and driving rhythm, when you have 12 fiddles blasting away on it.”
The group is scattered, so part of their rehearsal takes place through the “magic of the internet.”  Different people are in charge of different arrangements, which they put up on the back end of their website.
“It’s when we get together that the nitty gritty happens, refining, culling out what doesn’t work, putting things in.  It keeps the music alive.”  
Rehearsing “is like a family reunion, when everyone gets together.” Because everyone plays by ear, they can get by without a conductor.  Whoever has put out the arrangement becomes the leader for an individual tune.  “It makes for a real variety in the show.  There’s an organic quality of the music.”
The website also has free, downloadable fiddle lessons.  “We’re trying to expand our group, and our community.”  The orchestra is
“..a musical cauldron, where we’re forming the sound.  It’s not classical music, we’re playing from the inside out.  People learn the music by ear, and we rehearse and do everything on the spot.  We always end up with our own sound.”
Gwen Orel
About the Author

The only New York journalist who writes for both the Forward and Irish Music Magazine.