Raymond Albert Keldermans was born in Mechelen, descending on the patrilineal side directly from the famous fifteenth- and sixteenth-century cathedral builders Keldermans, whose achievements include the tower of St Rombout (St Rumbold) in Mechelen and St Gummarus in Lier. As a soprano in the boys’ choir of St Rombout’s Cathedral, young Raymond was present at the inauguration of the new organ in 1923 by Flor Peeters and Joseph Bonnet. According to his own story this fired his passion for the organ. His first organ and harmony lessons were imparted by Staf Nees, as confirmed in an interview with Keldermans in 1975. Furthermore he took classes for piano and chamber music at the Municipal Conservatory of his native city Mechelen.
At the Lemmens Institute Keldermans earned the diplomas for organ and composition with distinction in 1932. At that moment he served already as organist at St Peter’s Church in Mechelen, remaining there until immediately before the beginning of the Second World War. While pursuing advanced studies at the Lemmens Institute with a view to obtaining the higher diploma for organ, he was concurrently tutored by Staf Nees at the Carillon School (until 1935), without however earning a diploma. In 1938 Keldermans went to the 'Hochschule für Musik' in Berlin, where he studied composition as well as choral and orchestral conducting. Back in Belgium early in 1940, he was privately tutored by Paul Gilson and Arthur Meulemans in the fields of composition, fugue and orchestration.
During the Second World War Raymond Keldermans served as assistant manager at the Brussels Broadcast, which was controlled by the Germans, and as director of the Municipal Conservatory of Hasselt. Besides he also conducted the chamber choir Cypriaan de Rore in Mechelen, focussing on early music.
Shortly after the war he frequently substituted for Flor Peeters as organist of St Rombout’s cathedral. Concurrently he was verger-organist in Hever-Schiplaken, and in the evening he played in the 'Volkshuis' (the socialist People’s Palace) in Mechelen. While he failed to secure the position of carilloneur in Wellington (New Zealand), he was successfully backed up by Flor Peeters in 1946 for a position as organist in Battle Creek (Michigan), migrating with his family forever to the US in 1949 after two years of negotiation about a work permit. In 1952 he relocated to St Mary’s Church in Toledo, Ohio, serving as organist, music teacher and choir master. He also enjoyed considerable visibility as an organ virtuoso all over the US.
In 1960 Keldermans accepted the position of organist at the Blessed Sacrament Church in Spingfield, the capital of Illinois. Shortly afterwards his advice was requested for the building of a new carillon, the Thomas Rees Memorial Carillon. Although Keldermans had been out of practice as a carilloneur for many years, nonetheless he was appointed as carilloneur in December 1961, enjoying this tenure until his retirement in 1976. The official inauguration of the carillon happened in June 1962, marking the inception of an annual international carillon festival, the Springfield Carillon Festival. This tradition continues as of today.
In the period of his appointment as carilloneur in Springfield Keldermans resumed his long-ago classes at the Royal Carillon School in Mechelen, now as an intensive crash course with Piet Van den Broeck. He earned the Leon Henry Prize for carillon playing and graduated in 1965 with Staf Nees as his mentor. In 1965 he became an American citizen. He also remained active until the end of his life as an organist (at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Springfield, among others), and taught organ, carillon and music theory at Springfield College. He also edited the carillon periodical The Clapper. In 1976 his son Karel succeeded him as carilloneur of the Thomas Rees Memorial Carillon.
In addition to being an excellent performer Raymond Keldermans also shone as a composer. He wrote about two hundred works for diverse strengths, several of them being published in Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and the US. For orchestra he wrote four symphonies, among them Symphony for Great Orchestra, a suite for symphonic wind orchestra Tijl Uilenspiegel, and numerous smaller works. For organ he wrote a suite, Toccata on Veni sancte Spiritus, Processional on ‘Clouds of Night Are Passed Away’, and Bijbelse taferelen (Biblical Tableaus). Besides there are works for choir and church music, such as the cantata The Lord is my Shepherd, masses in Latin and English, Hosanna Filio David, Passion on biblical texts, and a Magnificat (composed for the Angela choir in Mechelen).
Among his compositions his works for carillon are the most frequently performed ones today. The Baroque Suite in four movements was awarded the composition prize of the Mechelen Committee for Tower and Carillon in 1964. Other works for the carillon are: Toccata in D flat, the suite Tableaus for Carillon, Nocturne and Four Old Flemish Dances.
© Studiecentrum voor Vlaamse Muziek vzw - Karolien Selhorst and Annelies Focquaert (translation: Joris Duytschaever)