Shaken by the health crisis, PGM Couesnon, almost a hundred-year-old brass manufacturer, still has breath

By Aline Leclerc

Posted today at 3:00 p.m.

Perhaps your village’s annual marching band parade was canceled this summer, like the one before? Or was it the carnival that animates the city every year? Or bravado? “Well behind, it’s full of trades which have also suffered”, Sophie Glace, the co-manager, 49, slips into the large office of the company PGM Couesnon, not far from the Château-Thierry station (Aisne).

Ginette Planson, business manager and CEO of the company, in Etampes-sur-Marne (Aisne), November 2, 2021.

Above his head, hanging on the wall like a trophy, a golden hunting horn, the length of the room or almost. “4.54 meters and a half! The size necessary to obtain a D major ”, she specifies. Since 1827, Couesnon has been making brass and percussion instruments. In the large adjoining workshop, the brass leaves become trumpet, tuba, bugle. To play in E or B flat, we hammer, we anneal, we push back, we polish.

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They are now only two manufacturers in France, around thirty in the world. And times are tough. “With the health crisis, cancellations and reduced gauges, we have lost two years in a row the equivalent of Christmas and Easter for chocolate makers: the Fête de la musique, the summer festivals, the parades of the 14th. July… “, continues Sophie Glace. Turnover collapsed by almost 50%. “For wind instruments, which project [des particules], we are still waiting for this cover that everyone is talking about on TV… It’s a long time ”, she laments. “I believe in it, it will start again”, interrupts him, in an almost quiet tone, his mother, Ginette Planson, still CEO of the company at 79 years old. We’ve been battling storms as a family here for a long time.

PGM-Couesnon has been manufacturing wind instruments since 1827.

Together, they evoke the glorious past of Couesnon, which a century ago had up to 1,000 employees at six sites in France, including 600 in Château-Thierry. “One day, I took my grandchildren on a trip to the United States. We go down to a jazz club in San Francisco, and there, the chance: all the posters on the wall were Couesnon posters! “, Ginette says with pride. Sidney Bechet, Bill Coleman and other big names in jazz made the company famous in the 1950s. “We were the market leader! ”

Competition from instruments produced in China

Ginette Planson started working there in 1960. She was 18 years old; her husband had been hired there a few years earlier. “At“ Château ”, people worked either at Belin’s [les biscuits], or at Couesnon. “ In 1979, the first shock: a fire ravaged the workshop. Of the 165 employees, only 20 are included. Ginette Planson is dismissed. While returning to the company, she discovers the machines in the yard that are being scrapped. “It took me like that, on a whim, I said: ‘I’ll buy them back from you at the price of scrap metal!’ “, she says, still amused by his daring. The same evening, the machines are installed in the basement of his house.

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