The history of the origin and development of the Mechelen Carillon School - the first, oldest and largest carillon school in the world! - has already been described in detail and from different perspectives in numerous publications.
Mechelen was one of the most important bell-founding centers in Europe between the middle of the fifteenth and the end of the seventeenth century. With the purchase of the Hemony carillon in 1679, the Mechelen possessed in its St. Rumbold’s tower one of the largest and heaviest carillons in the world.
At the end of the nineteenth century Mechelen became the center from which the carillon was put on the cultural map thanks to the initiatives of city carillonneur Jef Denyn (1862-1941). The carillon was perceived as a contemporary instrument, which led to the carillon art being promoted worldwide from Mechelen.
To perpetuate Denyn's achievements, the Carillon School was founded in 1922, the first international institute for the art of carillon and the mother school of almost all other carillon schools. Until today the Carillon School has a leading role as an educational institute and as initiator of numerous initiatives and projects. It seems unlikely, yet the preparation for the founding of the Carillon School went through the greatest difficulties, setbacks and postponements due to the First World War.
On August 13, 1922 during the First Carillon Congress in Mechelen, the foundation of the Carillon School was officially announced. This took place at the City Hall as part of the festivities on the occasion of Jef Denyn's 35th anniversary in office. From the very beginning the city council was closely involved in the organization of the Carillon School. The appointment of the mayor as chairman of the management board, later the board of directors of the non-profit organization, has - with three exceptions - remained a permanent feature until today (2022).
At its start in 1922, the school found classrooms in a city building at 36 Wollemarkt.
In 1947, the Carillon School moved into the historic building 't Schipke on the corner of St. Jans Street and Frederick de Merode Street.
Fifty years later 't Schipke had become too small for the Carillon School which had even more students and in the long run the building was even considered unsafe. As a result of the expansion and renovation work on the Hof van Busleyden Museum and the plans to give the corner house a new purpose, the Carillon School moved.
Since November 2011, it occupies the premises on the entire second floor of the former building of the O.C.M.W. (now Social House) in the Bruul and in the Schaalstraat, the place where the Norbertess priory Our Lady of Lille used to be located.
Together with the move of the Carillon School, a lot of museum objects were transferred, such as historical bells and carillon keyboards, documents and paraphernalia from the now defunct Carillon Museum in the Hof van Busleyden. Other pieces of the museum collection are partly stored in a depot of the Stedelijk Museum. The Carillon School also acquired, thanks to private donations, several valuable works of art such as paintings, sculptures and etchings. All these museum pieces are part of the heritage of the Royal Carillon School 'Jef Denyn' asbl.
The archive that the Carillon School had built up had become so impressive after 90 years that in 1992 it was decided to transfer the static archive to the Mechelen City Archives in the form of a deposit.
The Carillon School has a historical collection of more than 1,000 unique carillon scores in manuscript form, which have been used as course material by the teachers and the students since the foundation of the school until 1981. Besides this, the Carillon School has a separate collection of about 7,000 carillon scores. Since its foundation, the Carillon School has built up a unique library of bell and carillon literature from all over the world. It currently covers 42.2 linear meters and has 3,500 volumes. The library is continuously expanded thanks to donations of publications and through purchases.
From 1922 to 1941, the year of Denyn's death, some one hundred students had enrolled, 52 of whom obtained the final diploma. From the very beginning, the Carillon School attracted an international audience. The students came not only from their own country but also from the Netherlands, France, England, North America and New Zealand.
Denyn was succeeded by Staf Nees (1901-1965), Piet van den Broek (1916-2008), Jo Haazen (°1944) and, since 2010, Koen Cosaert (°1964). He is assisted as director of the carillon school by:
- Elena Sadinav (carillon, piano, children's class)
- Dina Verheyden (carillon, theory, harmony, piano and children's class), )
- Koen Van Assche (carillon)
- Eddy Mariën (carillon, harmony, campanology)
- Tom Van Peer (carillon, harmony and improvisation)
- Wannes Vanderhoeven (harmony and composition)
The Carillon School has departments in Peer, Roeselare and Leuven. Since 1984 it enjoys the High Protection of H.M. Queen Fabiola and after her death, that of H.M. Queen Mathilde.
During Director Koen Cosaert's term, the number of students, young and old, grew. The number of foreign students remained remarkably high and more so, the number of ladies increased proportionally spectacularly in recent years. This trend continues for the 2021-2022 school year. There were 23 students enrolled from Canada, China, Germany, France, Japan, the Netherlands, Ukraine, the UK, the USA and, of course, our country. A total of 72 registrations were noted and two of free students for the handbell choir Akabella. Almost half of the students are (young) ladies.
The celebration of 100 years of the Carillon School in 2022 is a milestone in the history of the carillon art in the Low Countries. It is the ambition of the present Mechelen city council, concretized in the policy paper Mechelen - hart voor beiaard, to further develop the Dijle city as an international center of the carillon art with the Carillon School in a leading role as educational institute and as initiator of numerous initiatives and projects.