Getting Horny

Meet yet another local. This guy makes hunting horns. He is (or was) the last maker of hunting horns in France, and I lived next door to him.

Getting Horny with the Postman

« Facteur » – postman (Brit), mailman (US).

« Facteur commun » common factor

« Facteur de risque » the risk factor

« Facteur de piano » ?

No, it is not what you think. What is a « piano factor » anyway?

A « facteur de piano » makes pianos.  A « facteur d’orgue » will make organs and a

« facteur de trompe de chasse » will make hunting horns.

Piano and organ makers are in the dictionary, but hunting horn makers aren’t, perhaps because there are not actually many people left making hunting horns.

« As far as I know I’m the last person in France actually making hunting horns » says Franck Picard. « I know of five or six other people who repair them, but only I still make them. »

What a big horn.

What a big horn.

In his cramped workshop in the Rue d’Auron in Bourges, Monsieur Picard is busy « emptying » an old hunting horn that has been in soak for several days. An evil looking dark liquid pours forth from the brass tube of the 100 year old horn. « A whole century of saliva » remarks Franck. « The tubes can get really dirty, but a well-kept horn can last forever »

From mouthpiece to trumpet, there are four and a half metres of brass tube in a French hunting horn. Forget the bugle-trumpet style horns you may see on an English hunt, the French horn looks like a French horn (referred to as such by the English).

Confused. Let’s start with the word « facteur »

« No, I have nothing to do with postmen, ‘Facteur’, comes from the word ‘la facture’ which means ‘to make with one’s hands’. (This gives the English word Manufacture)  In musical terms at least  a ‘facteur’ is a person who makes instruments by hand. The term is also perhaps derived from the verb ‘façonner’ which means to shape by hand. The term ‘facteur’ is usually associated more with wind instruments. String instruments, violins and such like would be made by a ‘luthier’. »

« The hunting horn is a very old instrument,» explains Franck « Apart from the key, the horns we make today haven’t changed much since the reign of Louis XIV. Back then of course hunting horns were made in different keys, during the reign of Louis XV though, it was decided that all horns would be made in the key of D, and that is still the case today. Horn design hasn’t changed much over the last three hundred years»

Is there much call for hunting horns? In the age of the mobile phone, surely there are more modern means of communicating between hunters?

Horns are still used frequently on hunts. They are the quickest and simplest way of sending messages over long distances. Whether hunting on horseback with hounds in the « vieille tradition » or just a day’s shooting, on every hunt there are always « sonneurs » or « horn blowers » whose job it is to accompany the hunters and sound their horns to inform everyone on the « state of play ». There are literally hundreds of horn calls that punctuate the hunt, « codes » sounded by the « sonneur » to mark the various moments, from the first sight of game, through the chase to the final kill. The calls change depending on where you are hunting and what your are hunting.

New horns

Hunting though is a dying past time. There are still 1.3 million « chasseurs » in France, but they are an aging breed. In these politically correct times, the flow of new blood into the hunting fraternity has reduced to a mere trickle. Young people consider hunting as barbaric, however hunters play an important in the eco-management of rural France.

In the Region Centre for example, the game population in the region’s forest is spirallng out of control. The amount of boar in the area has increased fourfold over the last ten years. Since 1998 they have been responsible for 25000 road and rail accidents. For the past few years, the very idea of a boar hunting season has been abandoned The creatures are now so plentiful that they are considered as a pest by the local authorities, in the same vein as Coypu and rats, Like their rodent cousins, they eat crops. In the past few years, boars have damaged or nibbled their way through the equivalent of 23 million Euros worth of cereal crops. It is now open seas on Boar all year round, and the local hunters take on the role of « pest control agents »

Be it real hunting or mere « pest control », horns still have a vital role to play. Apart from hunting, there is a demand for « ceremonial » horns, favoured at society weddings. When local dignitaries or aristocrats get married, it is traditional, and very posh to have a group of horn blowers decked out in full hunting regalia to play at the wedding. Nowadays though, Monsieur Picard’s main trade comes from repairing and restoring other brass instruments, everything from trumpets and saxophones through to tubas.

However if you want a horn to play or merely hang above the fire place Mr Picard will lovingly craft you one in under a week for a mere 1600€, or 1900€ if you want something a little more decorative.

In a few years Franck will retire and for the moment there is no one to take over. Franck himself started back in 1968 when he took over the family horn-making business from his father. « It was just assumed I would be a horn maker » he says.  « Back in those days, there was no formal training to become a horn maker

The art of horn making may not die out though thanks to the  Institut Technologique Européen des Métiers de la Musique (ITEMM) based in Le Mans. Created in 1972, but boosted and relaunched with EU funding in 1992, ITEMM offer 11 different courses in everything from piano-tuning and instrument making to sound engineering and running a music store. Franck Picard works closely with ITEMM in the teaching and development of new courses. At the moment.  « None of the students is interested by hunting horns, but I teach them the rudiments of making brass instruments. Who knows, one day one of them might want to follow in my steps. »

Finally, something that has been intriguing me. What about the shape of the horn? Is there a historical reason?

« It’s so you can sling it over your shoulder » laughs Monsieur Picard.

Franck Picard

109, rue d’Auron

18000 BOURGES

tél : 02 48 65 65 47

email : picard.frank@cegetel.net

Institut Technologique Européen des Métiers de la Musique (ITEMM)

www.itemm.fr/site2/page.php?pp=3

Official website of the French section of the International Hunting Horn Federation

www.fitf.org/

Hear some hunting horns

www.trompesdechasse.ch/index1024.php

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