His early music training was with Viola Benson. At the University of Toronto he studied composition with John Weinzweig, Oskar Morawetz, and John Beckwith, conducting with Boyd Neel, musicology with Harvey Olnick, and organ with Eric Rollinson. He conducted the University of Toronto Chorus 1959-61 and the Hart House Glee Club 1962-3. He also studied with Leon Kirchner (composition), Nino Pirotta, and A. Tillman Merritt (musicology) at Harvard and, on a Canada Council fellowship, with Frank L. Harrison at Oxford. His PH D thesis, which treated the 15th century Burgundian chanson, erected stylistic criteria for the ascription of anonymous pieces.
He was conductor 1966-72 of the Kitchener-Waterloo Philharmonic Choir. He won the RCCO's Golden Jubilee Prize in 1969, was RCCO historian and archivist 1973-8 and served 1974-6 as president. In 1965 he accepted the first full-time music appointment at Waterloo Lutheran U (Wilfrid Laurier University), and was founder-chairman of its music department 1967-76. From 1965 to 1976 he led the university choir. Kemp joined the music department at Dalhousie University in 1977, serving as chairman 1977-81 and again from 1987.
In 1985 he also was appointed to the joint faculty of the University of King's College, Halifax with Dalhousie. Kemp became director of the Dalhousie chorale in 1977, the Dalhousie Chamber Choir in 1988, was music director of St Paul's Anglican church 1977-90 and founder-director of the St Paul's Singers 1978-90 and of the Nova Scotia International Tattoo Choir from 1983. In 1991 he became musical director of the Nova Scotia Gilbert & Sullivan Society and founded the Aquinas Choir of King's College Chapel, Halifax.
Kemp has composed primarily for choir, including Meditations and Commentaries on Ewing's'Jerusalem the Golden' commissioned for the Bicentenary of King's College, Halifax in 1989. His Five Poems of William Blake (1958) has been recorded by the Tudor Singers (1978, RCI 491).
- 'A chanson for two voices by Cesaris, "Mon seul voloir",' Musica Disciplina, vol 11, 1966
- 'University choral music with the University choir,' CME, vol 10, Nov-Dec 1968
- 'Dietrich Bonhoeffer's''Polyphony of Life'',' Church Music, 1, 1970
- 'The''Polyphony of Life'': references to music in Bonhoeffer's Letters and Papers from Prison,' Vita Laudanda, ed Erich Schultz (Waterloo 1976)
- 'Some notes on music in Castiglione's Il libro del cortegiano,' Cultural Aspects of the Italian Renaissance, ed Cecil Clough (Manchester 1976)
- 'Toward the development of truly contemporary listening,' CME, vol 17, Summer 1976
- To Listen and to Teach: A Report on the Private Music Teacher in Ontario (Toronto 1976)
- 'The founding of the Royal Canadian College of Organists: an exercise in musical nationalism,' RCCO Q, 16, Jun 1977
- '"The haunted man" and musical meaning,' The Dickensian, 385, 1978
- The Evolution of Musical Composition from the Middle Ages to Bach and Handel, vol 1 of Study Companions in Music History (Waterloo 1979)
- ' ": a duo for dancing,' Music and Letters, vol 60, Jan 1979
- Burgundian Court Song in the Time of Binchois: The Anonymous Chansons of El Escorial, MS V. III. 24 (Oxford 1990)
- 'Three masses by maritime composers,' Musical Canada
- Also articles for AGO and RCCO Music, CMJ, and EMC.