Review: Belfast Heart (Darren Day)

One of the nice things about being sent things for review, is that you often come across books which you may not otherwise have seen. I get sent a lot from the ‘big publishers’, but some of the most interesting items come from composers themselves. Darren Day’s Belfast Heart is just one of those. The book contains 12 piano solos for the late-intermediate/advanced pianist (I’d say Grade 4+), a mixture of original pieces and arrangements of Northern Irish songs.

Dawn by Darren Day
The front cover of Darren Day's Belfast Heart for piano

I spent a very happy half-hour sat at the piano playing through these pieces. There is a nice mixture of original pieces and instantly-recognisable Northern Irish tunes such as ‘The Star of County Down’, ‘She Moved Through the Fair’ and ‘Danny Boy’. These arrangements are effective in retaining the essence of the original, whilst putting a contemporary stamp on the music which fits with the other pieces in the book. Therefore, although the volume mixes old and new, it has a clear, cohesive feel to it.

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One thing which struck me about all 12 pieces, is that they are beautifully evocative. I’ve never been to Northern Ireland, but they are crafted in a way which really helps you to appreciate the scenes they depict. Belfast Heart is very clever in this respect. All the pieces have an Irish feel to them, but are not in any way clichéd. This is not Riverdance, and what a relief that is!

Of the original pieces, I particularly enjoyed ‘Dawn’, depicting the awakening of a new day and the light shimmering across Belfast Lough. The 9/8 time signature gives a sense of expectation as the piece gently builds. The title piece from the book, ‘Belfast Heart’ was very evocative, with a positive and optimistic feel suggestive of a resilient city, emerging with renewed courage, from a troubled past. The rhythmic writing here is full of interest, always propelling the music forward.

Belfast Heart by Darren Day

The back cover of Darren Day's book

If you could have such a thing as a musical holiday brochure, then this is it, and what a fabulous advertisement it is for Northern Ireland. In fact, at first glance, this book could easily pass as a holiday brochure, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The cover is eye-catching and colourful, and a little bit like the music inside, has a tiny bit of retro influence, something I consider a good thing!

Pianists and teachers are understandably reluctant to purchase books which don’t come from the ‘big names’ and ‘big publishers’, but if you’re going to explore anything outside those this year, then I think Belfast Heart is it. You won’t be disappointed, and I’m sure the music inside will give you as much pleasure as it gave me.

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Belfast Heart: Traditional Northern Irish Songs and Original Solos for Piano by Darren Day, is published by 80 Days Publishing, RRP £24.00.

I was sent a review copy of this book free of charge; however, this review is my honest opinion as a teacher. You can find my Reviews Policy here.

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