J.J. Keeler

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J.J. Keeler, 1968


Joseph J. Keeler graduated from Brigham Young University in 1940 with a Bachelor's Degree in music and in 1950 with a Master's Degree in Music. During his secondary studies at Brigham Young High, Keeler stood out as a talented student. Following graduation at age 18, his teacher Leroy J. Robertson, accompanied him to Germany, where he studied until returning to Provo in 1933.

Work at BYU

When Keeler returned to Provo in 1933, he had made two decisions: he wanted to marry Virginia Bowles, and he wanted to play the organ. Unfortunately, he didn’t have any money or a job and BYU didn’t offer organ classes. He discussed his dilemmas with the university president and a used organ was purchased from the Provo Paramount Theatre.

Keeler was hired to play the organ for assemblies and to teach other students to play. He was now able to provide for his sweetheart and he married her. And he also started the organ program at BYU, in which he was an instructor until his retirement many decades later. His fellow faculty members included Margaret Summerhays, Franklin Madsen, Florence Jepperson Madsen, Leroy J. Robertson and Robert Sauer.

For the majority of his career, Keeler’s office was located in College Hall, on the lower campus. In 1964, he moved to newly constructed Harris Fine Arts Center. This move facilitated the growth of the organ program, adding performance venues and practice opportunities. Parley Belnap, Douglas E. Bush, Don Cook, Clay Christiansen and Bonnie Goodliffe were among the students who studied under Keeler.

His passion for music and vision for the program helped it to grow. Keeler drew other experienced organists to the program. He was influential in bringing Bill Foxley, Robert Cundick, John Longhurst and Robert Manookin to BYU.

He helped arrange for famous organists to visit campus, and was a key player in organizing several recitals. He also was heavily involved in composition, though teaching remained his passion.

Keeler taught his last organ lesson when he was 85 on a Friday. He passed away the following Sunday.

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