Staf Gebruers at the organ of St Colman’s Cathedral (Cobh).
Staf Gebruers (1902-1970) Born in Antwerp and from a musical family, Staf Gebruers received his early education at the local Jesuit schools. A talent for choral music soon became apparent and at the tender age of 16 he was conducting his own youth choir. Encouraged by the Flemish composer Emiel Hullebroeck (1878-1965), he went on to study at the Antwerp Conservatoire. At the Lemmens Institute for Church Music in Mechelen he came under the influence of its director, Monsignor Jules Van Nuffel (1883-1953) and the movement for the revival of Gregorian Chant and sacred music in general initiated in 1903 by the Motu Proprio of Pope St Pius X. While in Mechelen, he also became one of the early students of Jef Denyn (1862-1941), the man responsible for the renaissance of the carillon art in our time. Another significant influence was the composer and Flemish nationalist Jef van Hoof (1886-1959), who instilled in his young student a passion for folksong. In 1922, he was appointed carillonneur of his own parish church of St Katharina in the suburb of Kiel and Assistant City Carillonneur of Antwerp Cathedral. Having been dissuaded by his parents from accepting a carillon posting in the USA, Bishop Robert Browne of Cloyne (1844-1935) then offered him the position of Carillonneur, Organist and Choirmaster of St Colman’s Cathedral in Cobh, which he took up in 1924. He thus became one of a select group of Flemish and German church musicians who at that period were being appointed to key ecclesiastical centres in Ireland, and for almost fifty years was to play a major rôle in the musical life of his adoptive town and country, as well as regular guest engagements abroad. In 1926 he married Maureen Kidney, daughter of the late Cobh Postmaster Patrick Kidney. They were to have two children, Mary and Adrian. Later that year, he was offered the post of Carillonneur of the newly installed Sydney University Carillon. Though sorely tempted, the young married couple decided against emigrating to Australia.
In addition to his work at the Cathedral, Staf Gebruers also taught singing in primary and post-primary schools and for many years was Professor of Music at Mount Melleray Cistercian Seminary in County Waterford. He was responsible for many musical productions in Cobh and elsewhere throughout the country, ranging from operetta through oratorio to grand opera. A prolific composer of sacred music as well as of opera, oratorio, orchestral and choral music, he was also a very active and imaginative arranger. He was a gifted conductor, particularly of choral music and was director of numerous choirs, including the Irish Naval Service Choir, the Verolme Cork Dockyard Male Voice Choir and the Cork City Choral Society. He was also much in demand as a lecturer. He did a considerable amount of work for radio and, in the latter part of his life, also for television both in Ireland and abroad.
Staf Gebruers was a frequent prizewinner at the Oireachtas and the Dublin Feis Ceoil and on at least five separate occasions was the recipient of the much-coveted Milligan Fox Gold Medal for original composition. In 1957, while on a carillon concert tour of North America, he received the Key to Washington DC. On the occasion of the Cobh International Carillon Festival in 1958, his carillonneur colleagues presented him with the Medal of Honour of SABAM (The Belgian Artists’ Association). In 1969, he received the Papal medal “Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice” in recognition of his outstanding work for church music.