Gawlers tour with fiddle super group Childsplay

Nov 06, 2018
The women of the Gawler Family Band are performing with Childsplay this month. They are, from left, Edith, Ellen, Elsie and Molly.

The fiddle choir Childsplay: Fiddlers, Fiddles and Fiddlemaker has released its seventh album, “The Bloom of Youth,” and begins its final tour. It is a farewell for the band, many of whose musicians have been in Childsplay for 30 years.

Childsplay will kick off its final tour dates in the Pacific Northwest, playing several shows in Washington and Oregon, Saturday, Nov. 10, before concluding at the Somerville Theatre in Somerville, Mass., Tuesday, Nov. 20.

Led by violinmaker Robert Childs, Childsplay features 12 fiddlers playing a violin or viola handmade by Childs himself and ranging from all-Ireland and national Scottish fiddle champions to members of the Boston Symphony. Childsplay’s fiddlers are accompanied by nine all-star instrumentalists, singers and dancers.

Part of Childsplay are the women of Maine’s Gawler family: from Belfast, Elsie, Edith and Molly Gawler form the trio The Gawler Sisters; their mother Ellen, from Belgrade, also is a member of Childsplay. Ellen was the first to join; after playing in two bands together in Maine, she formed a strong friendship with Childs and purchased one of his instruments. Around that time Childsplay had begun to take form.

“Several other prominent fiddlers from around the country, also playing on Childs fiddles, informed him that they had just created a band, pulling all his 'children' together and would he like to join? They were calling it Childsplay,” Ellen Gawler said. “And thus, the band was born.”

The sisters were introduced to Childsplay through their mother; Childs is Elsie’s godfather.

“The legend is that there was a group of musicians and friends who moved to Maine, and they all were crazy about the fiddle music in their wild youth,” Molly Gawler said. “Bob Childs was part of that scene.”

Music has always remained a vital part of the Gawler family with contra dances, harmony singing in the car, grace before meals, violin lessons and traveling together and busking in the streets. After performing as a family for years with husband/father John, it was during an early performance of “Fiddler’s Hymn” with Childsplay that The Gawler Sisters was formed.

These days, the sisters perform as a quartet, accompanied by Edith’s husband Bennett Konesni; their music is a blend of cello, fiddle, banjo, guitar and voices. Ellen, Molly and Edith have all played fiddles made by Childs, largely by passing them down through the family over the years. Ellen passed down her Childs fiddle to Molly when she was 16; that same fiddle was eventually passed on to Edith; and Molly plays a new Childs fiddle she received in 2014 from her husband Lao as a wedding present.

“It will be so special to open the show with ‘Fiddler’s Hymn’ again with my dear sisters Edith and Elsie and play on stage with my brilliant mom,” Molly said. “I am so excited about this tour … and can’t wait to soak in the absolutely amazing musicianship that surrounds us when we are in this band.”

For ticket information and the full tour schedule, visit childsplay.org.

Courier Publications’ A&E Editor Dagney C. Ernest can be reached at (207) 594-4401, ext. 115; or dernest@courierpublicationsllc.com.

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