Having visited the old prison, the former archbishop’s palace, the cellars below the cloister of the cathedral, the market halls (for lunch 🙂 ), the Hotel de Montmorency, and the Theatre des Varietes on my day out in Beziers during the recent European Heritage Weekend, I finished my day at La Boite a Musique!
La Boite a Musique is on Rue du Capus, in one of the oldest parts of Beziers, not all that far from the market halls and the Place de la Madeleine. As I approached the door, I could hear music being played – one of the reasons this was on my list of places to visit!
Inside, Pierre Charial was in the middle of a presentation. The room was crowded with people – old and young alike were listening intently to every word and every note!!
Pierre Charial was in the process of explaining and demonstrating a table top organette. All around the walls of the room were floor-to-ceiling shelves, stacked high with cardboard books.
Pierre Charial is a noteur (a mechanical music notator) and the cardboard books are for making street organs come to life. Here’s how:
The cardboard strips pass through a “keyframe” and a hole in the cardboard means that the corresponding note will sound on the organ as it passes through the keyframe. Different types of organs have different numbers of keys, the smaller ones often have 24 keys, while some very large dance or fair organs have up to 101 keys!
Pierre Charial had a collection of different instruments in his workshop. Below is a barrel piano, another street instrument, where a pinned barrel plays the music. A spare barrel sat atop the instrument.
Against one wall stood a disc musical box:
And there were other organs:
Pierre Charial has been making organ books since 1975, preserving historical tunes and creating new arrangements of contemporary music. His catalogue lists around 1400 titles, and he’s still adding to it!
In 2004, Pierre Charial was given the title Maitre d’Art (Master Artist) by the French minister for culture, in recognition of his skills and his contribution to safeguarding a unique heritage. During the heyday of the street organ there were literally hundreds of noteurs. Today, this dying art is practiced by very few people.
On the Maitres d’Art website, there’s an interesting video (in French) showing Pierre Charial in his former workshop in Paris: click here for the link.
It was getting to the end of the guided visit – Pierre Charial kept the best for last! He played his Limonaire Freres organ for us, a beautiful instrument!
Thank you very much to Mr Charial for opening his workshop for us – what a truly fascinating visit!!