President Carl Van Eyndhoven and Jos D'hollander  

MECHELEN - Saturday March 20, 2004, the Vlaamse Beiaardvereniging celebrated its fiftieth birthday in Mechelen. In this city a group of graduates of the Royal Carillon School took in 1954 the initiative to found an association of former students which, after several changes of name, is now called the Vlaamse Beiaardvereniging. In the historic City Hall of Mechelen, on the occasion of this anniversary Jos D'hollander, traced the story of the carillon culture in Flanders.

The session in the Council Chamber concluded with a celebratory reception of wine, beer and cheese or ham rolls. In the afternoon the Royal Carillon School 'Jef Denyn' held open day. Visitors were given a guided tour through the typical school building by principal Jo Haazen personally.

Koen Cosaert, Geert D'hollander and Eddy MariŽn, three teachers of the Royal Carillon School, gave a recital in the late afternoon. Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate. It was autumnnal with a low temperature, rain and gusts of wind. However, the closing of this day made up for everything: a sparkling aperitif and a generous and delicious dinner in the splendid building of Salons Van Dijck.

The original motivation for the founding of a carillon society was over a hundred years ago. It started on February 21, 1919 with the founding of the Southern Dutch branch of the Algemene Klokkenspelvereniging which was established in The Netherlands as the Northern Dutch branch.

The Algemene Klokkenspelvereniging was an association promoting the Flemish way of playing, although this led at first in the North to heated discussions, because the repertoire, the way of playing (and therefore the carillon construction) developed differently in comparison to the South. The 'playing with fists' as in Mechelen, which allowed more virtuosity, was viewed with scepticism by the Dutch. Conversely, the typical 'playing with fingers' as in Holland (playing with the flat of the hand), suited particularly a specific group probably better because of the nature of their strict religious conviction.

The goal of the Algemene Klokkenspelvereniging was to establish one carillon design for the northern and southern parts of the Low Countries, including French-Flanders. The board was convinced of the logic of one Large Dutch Country. However, for some people the merging of the North with the South was a step too far. In fact, the complicated politics in Belgium made such a collaboration simply impossible. In the end the term 'Southern Dutch' was replaced with the word 'Belgian'.

In 1921 the southern branch was therefore renamed 'Onze Beiaarden - Nos Carillons' with the same president, Emiel Hullebroeck. This association went into decline and ceased to exist after the second World War.

On September 27, 1954, during the commemoration of Jef Denyn, who passed away in 1941, the 'Union of Past Pupils of the carillon school of Mechlin' was founded thanks to the persuasiveness of Jef van Hoof. The name of Denyn was only appended five years later when the carillon school received the designation 'Royal': 'Union of Past Pupils of the Royal Carillon School Jef Denyn'.

John Gebruers was the first president. Already in May 1955 the first issue of the periodical was published, entitled 'Nieuws van onze Oud-leerlingenbond der Mechelse beiaardschool'. The next year this somewhat long-winded name was changed to 'Bondsnieuws'.

Every year the society presented itself in many cities, published music, strengthened the links with Holland, and in 1956 organized a first international carillon competition in Lokeren in which 20 carillonneurs from several countries took part.

Years went by. The members, now all veterans, had in the mean time attained an advanced age. In 1970 'Bondsnieuws' came out only once and the board hardly took any initiative except for the Annual Meeting. In 1971 again only one 'Bondsnieuws' was published containing in all three pages and the publication of music was omitted. The year 1972 was much the same. The Annual Meeting on December 1 was of a society in a deep crisis.

Nevertheless the Dutch-Belgian Keyboard Committee was established in 1973 with as its goal to (again) come to a standardisation of the carillon keyboards. Later on this committee played an active role in the Keyboard Committee of the World Carillon Federation. The preliminary committee for the standardisation of the carillon keyboard met in Asten (The Netherlands) for the first time only after three years and confined itself to collecting pieces of information.

In 1974 the Statutes of the society were thoroughly revised and modernised and the society was given a new logo. Also, the annual meetings were no longer held only in Mechelen.

After the establishment of the World Carillon Federation in 1978 the association had to think of a new name again, this time one with a geographic reading, similar to those of carillon societies in other countries. Furthermore, now only a few members were actually former students of the carillon school in Mechelen. On November 22, 1980, the 'Belgische Beiaardiersgilde' saw the light of day.

After a great many years music was published again. The guild received permission from Jef Rottiers to bring out a series of his carillon arrangements. The first volume was quickly followed by another two volumes of the same master. In 1989 a second volume appeared with original carillon compositions of Staf Nees. The first 'Staf Nees-volume' with 12 original pieces had already been published in 1974 on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the society.

In 1985 Frans Vos, who had been elected president after the crisis in 1972, was succeeded by NoŽl Reynders.

Towards the end of the 20th century it was once again necessary to adjust the name as a direct result of the splitting up of Belgium into Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels. On October 1, 1994, the society was renamed 'Vlaamse Beiaardvereniging'. After a year the name of 'Bondsnieuws' also changed into 'VBV-Magazine' and it became a quaterly periodical.

In conclusion, the current president, Carl Van Eyndhoven, was elected on May 2, 2000, thus becoming the fourth president since 1954. In recent years also several young carillonneurs joined the board which as a consequence now brims over with activities.

The original objective of the society was and is to promote the sole instrument that Flemish Culture has given to the world - the inheritance of belfries and the art in all its forms which results from that.