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Derek Bell

Derek Bell was born in 1935 in Belfast. The son of a traditional Irish fiddler, Bell was initially more strongly inclined toward classical music than folk. He learned several orchestral instruments, including the oboe, the piano, the xylophone, and the English horn, and continued on with his music studies. In 1959, Trinity College, Dublin awarded Bell a Bachelor of Music degree.

Following graduation, Bell stayed in the musical field, first as manager of the City of Belfast Symphony Orchestra and later as deputy chorus master of the Northern Ireland Radio and TV Orchestra. He also began a career as a soloist on the oboe and the English horn, performing with a variety of ensembles.

In addition, he pursued a parallel career as a music educator. Derek hadn’t even picked up a harp until his early thirties, and then only at the strong urging of composer Alan Tongue. By 1970, Bell had become so accomplished on the instrument that he was hired to be Professor of Harp at the Belfast Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.

Tongue is a central character in Bell’s life, especially since he is also the one responsible for introducing Bell to The Chieftains. Bell joined the legendary Irish folk masters in 1972, which discographically falls after the release of Chieftains 3 but before the start of recording sessions for Chieftains 4. Bell brought a wide range of exciting capabilities to the group, contributing oboe and dulcimer in addition to the harp. By the middle of the 1970s, The Chieftains had become an international sensation.

Throughout the remainder of his life, Bell continued his multitude of pursuits—teaching music, performing with The Chieftains, performing as a internationally touring harp soloist, and composing. On the latter front, Bell has composed several ethnic dance pieces and two symphonies, in addition to multiple pieces for solo harp and orchestra. On October 17, 2002, Bell died of complications following minor surgery in the United States.

Recordings featuring Derek Bell

Ancient Music for the Irish Harp
Carolan's Receipt: The Music of Carolan, Volume 1