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Bob Childs

Led by violin maker Robert Childs, Childsplay is comprised of more than 20 musicians from around the United States and Ireland, with each member of the string section playing a violin or viola handmade by Childs himself. Childsplay performs on Wednesday night at Oregon State University. 

Childsplay, the Celtic music big band founded and led by violin maker Bob Childs, is in the midst of what it calls its Pacific Northwest tour. 

Corvallis is one of the stops, for a show Wednesday night at The Lasells Stewart Center on the Oregon State University campus. (See the related story for details about the show.) The group, more than 20 players strong, also has stops planned in Coos Bay and Portland.

The last stop on the "Pacific Northwest" tour, however, is scheduled for Nov. 20 — in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Isn't it a bit of stretch to define the Pacific Northwest so broadly that it includes Massachusetts?

Childs laughed off the question in a recent phone interview, and had an explanation: For the last two decades, he said, every Childsplay tour (regardless of where it starts geographically) has ended with a show in Somerville.

And sometime soon, the last Childsplay show in Somerville will be exactly that — Childs said the Pacific Northwest leg is the start of an extended farewell tour for the group. 

When we call Childsplay a Celtic music big band, it's not hyperbole: The ensemble includes a dozen fiddle players, along with two cellists, a bass player, a harpist, a banjo player, a flutist and a guitarist. Add vocalist Karan Casey and dancers Kevin Doyle and Molly Gawler, and it can make for a crowded stage, Childs said: The performers take up "a lot of real estate. It would be easy for the performers to collide with each other."

But the sheer numbers guarantee that the music has a depth and power that smaller ensembles can't match, Childs said: "People really love the big-band sound."

There's something else you should know about Childsplay that makes the ensemble stand out: All the violinists are playing instruments that were built by Childs. 

Childs, who now builds his instruments in a workshop in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has been a fiddle player for decades. In 1996, as he was working in Philadelphia, he got a phone call inviting him to come to Washington, D.C. to play in a show there. As it turned out, all the violin players at that show were playing Childs creations. And the show itself was terrific, Childs said: "It was just the energy of playing together." 

Two years later, Childs invited a group of players to join him for a show in Boston, with the same high-energy results. That was the formal beginning of Childsplay, now some 30 years old. 

The group feeds into Childs' longtime love for music from Ireland and Scotland: "It's the music I love," he said. "It's the music I've always wanted to play."

And his decades with Childsplay and his years making top-level instruments for other musicians have brought him an additional bonus: "You make all your great friends from music," he said.

In concert, expect the group to draw heavily from its new album, "The Bloom of Youth," which was released in September as the official kickoff for the farewell tour. But even though the album is new, chances are good that the members of Childsplay will have been playing songs from the album in concert settings for a couple of years: "The arrangements are very organic," Childs said. "It takes a couple of years for an arrangement to gel."

But the final goal, he said, is worth the work, when an arrangement yields that Childsplay sound, "this really powerful sound that's really emotionally focused."    

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