Article by Jean Bossu, published in La liberté de l'Est, September 1946

Music of wooden horses and Great Art

Jobs that die: The last of the organ builders and silk workers and his companion are working as magicians in a former hunting lodge of the Duke of Lorraine in Mirecourt.

It is neither a patron saint's day nor a fair without wooden horses that turns to the lively sound of an old barrel organ. And today there is no barrel organ that does not come from Mirecourt, and exclusively from the house of Poirot frères, the last survivor of an industry and an art that is dying out.

In the past, the small company from Mirecourt had to compete with the big Parisian houses. But the T.S.F. came and the fairground people found that loudspeakers were less cumbersome than organs. Only the Maison Poirot Frères remained, which itself, after having once employed about twenty workers, is now reduced to Mr. Poirot assisted by his faithful collaborator, Mr. Camille Tourel.

He can take over the famous apostrophe: And if there is only one left, I will be the one.


The mystery of the serinette

Our fellow countryman thus maintains a family heritage against all odds. His father was associated with four brothers. All his ancestors have been organ builders sincethe beginning of time.

Just think that before the war M. Poirot had to repair a serinet made by his father's grandfather!

His workshop is very modest in appearance, although it belongs to one of the oldest houses in Mirecourt, a former hunting lodge of the Dukes of Lorraine. There is a heap of instruments of all kinds, where the organ dominates in the most diverse forms. For Mr. Poirot builds, maintains or repairs all kinds of organs, whether church organs, music boxes or fairground organs. There are thousands of parts in an organ. In order to repair it, wood, iron, steel, copper as well as rubber is used. You need a small forge, towers, cardboard for perforated music, a lot of things.

By the way, these raw materials were firmly in the hands of the German troops. A good patriot, Mr. Poirot preferred to leave his trade and work in a factory rather than serve the occupier.

We were talking earlier about Serinette. It is a small box whose various elements are slide tubes corresponding to the notes of the scale, a bellows, a wind chest, a watertight box receiving the wind, a roller spiked with small points unevenly arranged. As the crank is turned, the points hit the keys which, by lifting a valve, send the wind into the tubes. Up to ten different tunes can be combined: the "Corneville Bells", the "Mascot", the "Father Victory", etc...

Before the invention of the phono the serinette was a pleasant pastime and was also used to make small birds sing.


"Sambre et Meuse", 15 meters wavelength on cardboard box

About fifty years ago, when the pneumatic lever was discovered, they began to make organs with perforated cardboard, the"limonaires", which allow pieces to be played in their full extent. The perforated cardboard is the equivalent of the record for the phonograph. And since barrel organs are not made or repaired every day, the usual work of the firm is the making of perforated cardboard.

The cardboards, brought in sheets from the paper mill, are folded and glued in accordion form. This sometimes makes a pile one metre high which, once unfolded, can reach up to a hundred metres in length. For a waltz it takes 15 to 18 metres. The "Fantasy" of the "Saltimbanques" is 25 metres long, a Strauss or Waldteufel waltz is 20 metres long, "Sambre et Meuse" is about 15 metres long and a song is three to four metres long. The width of these boxes varies with the number of notes the instrument has.

Music with holes, without false notes

He takes care to perforate these cardboard boxes, each hole of which, depending on the place it occupies, will allow the bellows of the instrument to return the air into the pipe corresponding to such or such a note.

To do this, the piece of music is copied or translated, if you wish, on a stencil wrapped around a drum. I won't describe how this work is done, which is apparently only a matter of habit, but which, to the layman, seems devilishly difficult to understand and, above all, to make understandable.

The holes, once drawn on the stencil paper, are perforated. Then the stencil is applied to the unfolded cardboard: an ink brush is passed through the perforations in the paper to print the drawing on the cardboard. And then the cardboard is re-punched using a machine where each note value (quarter note, eighth note, etc.) is matched with a particular knife. For example, we make all the eighth notes of the piece, then all the quarter notes, and so on. In total, we manage to prepare about twenty meters a day. All that remains to be done is to send the perforated cardboard to the customer, whether it is in the Pyrenees or in Cuba.

It's really a curious thing that Mr. Poirot perforates this way on music cardboard ...If he makes false notes, he must see it immediately when he reads his cardboard riddled with holes. When the organ is well chromatic, the piece is impeccable.

It is true that one sometimes hears loud organs at fairs that sabotage the music; it is because their playing is incomplete, the perforation had to be "rigged" to adapt it to the instrument.

Mirecourt, famous as far away as Mexico, Brazil, etc ...

Poirot frères has thus built countless instruments: church organs, parlour organs, cylinder organs, trumpet organs, organs with automatons that beat the measure or hit the bass drum (always with perforated cardboard), simple stringers for proletarian fairgrounds, large organs with rich sculptures (works of Mircourtian sculptors) for large merry-go-rounds.

It has inherited from the one hundred and fifty or two hundred barrel organ builders or workers of Mirecourt from the last century. It spread the firm's fame as far as Mexico and Brazil, and even today it is still unable to deliver all orders to French customers. Mr. Poirot even travels as far as the depths of France to repair organs; he repairs all makes.

And if one thinks that it takes from a fortnight to a month to repair an organ, if one imagines the slow work of copying and perforating, one must agree that it is a bit of a swelling job since genius, it has been said, is a long patience.

One returns from this visit filled with wonder and, above all, full of respect for the master craftsmen, the faithful followers of Tradition, the initiates, who, in a century of mass production, standardization and Taylorism, maintain the wish for work well done and good French work.

Article published in La liberté de l'Est, September 1946