seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of The Chieftains Harpist Derek Bell

George Derek Fleetwood Bell, harpist, pianist, oboist, musicologist and composer best known for his accompaniment work on various instruments with The Chieftains, dies unexpectedly on October 17, 2002 in Phoenix, Arizona during a recovery period from minor surgery.

Bell is born in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He is something of a child prodigy, composing his first concerto at the age of twelve. He graduates from the Royal College of Music in 1957. While studying there, he became friends with the flautist James Galway. From 1958 to 1990 he composes several classical works, including three piano sonatas, two symphonies, Three Images of Ireland in Druid Times (in 1993) for harp, strings and timpani, Nocturne on an Icelandic Melody (1997) for oboe d’amore and piano and Three Transcendental Concert Studies (2000) for oboe and piano.

As manager of the Belfast Symphony Orchestra, Bell is responsible for maintaining the instruments and keeping them in tune. Out of curiosity, he asks Sheila Larchet-Cuthbert to teach him how to play the harp. In 1965 he becomes an oboist and harpist with the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra. He serves as a professor of harp at the Academy of Music in Belfast.

Bell is briefly featured in a 1986 BBC documentary, The Celts, in which he discusses the role and evolution of the harp in Celtic Irish and Welsh society. He also appears with Van Morrison at the Riverside Theatre at the University of Ulster in April 1988.

Bell is an admirer of the music of Nikolai Karlovich Medtner and is the co-founder, with the bass-baritone Hugh Sheehan, of the first British Medtner Society which gives a series of successful concerts of Medtner’s music in the 1970s long before Medtner’s music is recognised as it is today.

On St. Patrick’s Day in 1972 Bell performs on the radio the music of Turlough O’Carolan, an 18th-century blind Irish harpist. At that time O’Carolan’s music is virtually unknown, though today almost every album of harp music contains one of his compositions. Working with him on the project are several members of The Chieftains. Bell becomes friends with the leader of The Chieftains, Paddy Moloney. For two precarious years, he records both with the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra and with The Chieftains, until finally becoming a full-time member of the Chieftains in 1975.

Bell is the only member of the band to wear a necktie at every public performance. He favours socks with novelty designs, such as images of Looney Tunes characters. He wears scruffy suits, often with trousers that are too short. He is eccentric and tells obscene jokes. The title of his 1981 solo album Derek Bell Plays With Himself has a conscious double entendre.

While touring in Moscow he grabs his alarm clock and puts it in his pocket while rushing to catch a plane. He is then stopped by the Soviet police on suspicion of carrying a concealed weapon. Paddy Moloney affectionately calls him “Ding Dong” Bell. He relishes the eclectic collaborations, such as those with Van Morrison, Sting and the Chinese orchestra. In 1991 he records with his old friend James Galway. He is awarded an MBE in the 2000 Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to traditional music.

Bell dies of cardiac arrest in Phoenix, Arizona on October 17, 2002, just four days shy of his 67th birthday. He is remembered at Cambridge House Grammar School, Ballymena, as House Patron of Bell House.


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Birth of Musicologist Francis Llewellyn Harrison

Francis Llewellyn Harrison, better known as “Frank Harrison” or “Frank Ll. Harrison” and one of the leading musicologists of his time and a pioneering ethnomusicologist, is born in Dublin on September 29, 1905. Initially trained as an organist and composer, he turns to musicology in the early 1950s, first specialising in English and Irish music of the Middle Ages and increasingly turning to ethnomusicological subjects in the course of his career. His Music in Medieval Britain (1958) is still a standard work on the subject, and Time, Place and Music (1973) is a key textbook on ethnomusicology.

Harrison is the second son of Alfred Francis Harrison and Florence May (née Nash). He becomes a chorister at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin in 1912 and is educated at the cathedral grammar school and Mountjoy School. A competent organist, he is deputy organist at St. Patrick’s from 1925 to 1928. In 1920, he also begins musical studies at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, where he studies with John Francis Larchet (composition), George Hewson (organ) and Michele Esposito (piano). In 1926, he graduates Bachelor of Music at Trinity College Dublin and is awarded a doctorate (MusD) in 1929 for a musical setting of Psalm 19. He then works in Kilkenny for one year, serving as organist at St. Canice’s Cathedral and music teacher at Kilkenny College.

In 1930, Harrison emigrates to Canada to become organist at Westminster Presbyterian Church in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. In 1933, he studies briefly with Marcel Dupré in France, but returns to Canada in 1934 to become organist at Knox Presbyterian Church in Ottawa. In 1935, he takes a position as organist and choirmaster at St. George’s Cathedral in Kingston, Ontario, as well as taking up the newly created post of “resident musician” at Queen’s University at Kingston. His duties include giving lectures, running a choir and an orchestra, and conducting concerts himself. His course in the history and appreciation of music is the first music course to be given for full credit at Queen’s. He resigns from St. George’s in 1941 to become assistant professor of music at Queen’s in 1942. During his years in Canada he still pursues the idea of remaining a performing musician and composer, winning three national composition competitions: for Winter’s Poem (1931), Baroque Suite (1943) and Night Hymns on Lake Nipigon (1945).

On a year’s leave of absence from Queen’s, Harrison studies composition with Paul Hindemith at Yale University, also taking courses in musicology with Leo Schrade. In 1946, he takes up a position at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, and then moves on to Washington University in St. Louis as head of the new Department of Music (1947–1950).

In 1951, Harrison takes the degrees of Master of Arts (M.A.) and Doctor of Music (DMus) at Jesus College, Oxford, and becomes lecturer (1952), senior lecturer (1956), and reader in the history of music (1962–1970) there. In 1965, he is elected Fellow the British Academy and Senior Research Fellow at Oxford. From 1970 to 1980, he is Professor of Ethnomusicology at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, retiring to part-time teaching in 1976.

Harrison also holds Visiting Professorships in musicology at Yale University (1958–1959), Princeton University (spring 1961 and 1968–1969), and Dartmouth College (winter 1968 and spring 1972). He also briefly returns to Queen’s University at Kingston as Queen’s Quest Visiting Professor in the fall of 1980 and is Visiting Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Music at the University of Pittsburgh for the calendar year 1981.

Harrison’s honorary titles also include Doctor of Laws at Queen’s University, Kingston (1974), Corresponding Member of the American Musicological Society (1981), and Vice President and Chairman of the Plainsong and Medieval Music Society (1985). At Queen’s also, the new Harrison-LeCaine Hall (1974) is partly named in his honour.

Harrison dies in Canterbury, England on December 29, 1987.

In 1989, Harry White appreciates Harrison as “an Irish musicologist of international standing and of seminal influence, whose scholarly achievement, astonishingly, encompassed virtually the complete scope of the discipline which he espoused.” David F. L. Chadd writes of him “He was above all things an explorer, tirelessly curious and boyishly delighted in the pursuit of knowledge, experience and ideas, and totally heedless of artificially imposed constraints and boundaries.”

Since 2004, the Society for Musicology in Ireland (SMI) awards a bi-annual Irish Research Council Harrison Medal in his honour to distinguished international musicologists.