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Meet François Debreuille: composer, pipe organ virtuoso, train & crèche enthusiast

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Virtuoso François Debreuille at the keyboards of the organ of Notre Dame Cathedral. 
After a wonderful trip to Miami Beach and a visit to an ancient monastery and its sculpted relief Nativity, I'm back at Crèchemania Headquarters.

A fresh blanket of snow covers the Midwest, and the bright colors of Miami that surrounded me just a few days ago have been replaced by white.

But not on my computer, where bright images of blooming gardens, toy trains, and colorful nativities fill my screen, courtesy of François Debreuille, who writes:

Une Trés bonne année 2009... Happy New Year 2009, Dear Alexis. Your site is beautiful! Regards from France. Amicalement, François.

The Debreuille's New Year's postcard featuring the sleepy family pets, dog Berenice and cat Mozart, is enough to touch your heart. But there's also a link to his Web page with a reference to

Here's a site created by a man with a passion for Christmas crèches, a true collector with the heart of a child, a person one meets in the world of toys, miniatures, trains. You will find, on this splendid site, all the magic of Christmas..."

Deeply moved, and a bit embarrassed by such praise, I realize that François and I share a love for a lot of the same things.

First, the nativities

Fifty-four, to be exact, that fill the home he shares with his wife, François, and pets Berenice, and Mozart. Among them is the beautiful Christmas in Tyrol table-top nativity that I also used to create the Orchestra Crèche.

I transformed the Christmas in Tyrol nativity into a theater crèche beause, as I wrote at the time, "I have trouble keeping track of all those table-top nativity little pieces." But look at what François has created to solve that problem: a self-contained, eliptical, diorama housed in a glass case.

François has created a glass-enclosed diorama to house his Christmas in Tyrol nativity. 

Looking at all those pieces, all that fine cutting, one wonders at the patience—and dexterity—it took to create this magnificent display. But should one expect less from someone like François who faces five organ keyboards and a myriad pipe levers as a matter of course?

François at a grand piano as the Musical Director of the French TV show Stars 90. 
Second, the music

François, after his academy studies on pipe-organ performance, embarked on a concert career that gave him the opportunity to play some of the finest pipe organs of Europe, including what he considers the most beautiful instrument in all of France, that of Rodez Cathedral. I wonder: did he also perform any of my favorite Handel Organ Concertos?

"But it was in television," he says, "that my musical career flourished. First, as a composer film scores and then, as the musical director of many TV programs, including Grand Échiquier," and the "Le cercle de Minuit" to mention just a few. But it was with my meeting Michel Drucker, a popular TV host, that caused me to spend the next sixteen happy years as the Musical Director of "Champs Elysées," "Stars 90," and "Faites La Fête."

François spent his last working years, "At the Ministry of Culture, where I was in charge of Web Development. It was a world completely different than that of music and television, but one that enabled me to meet extraordinary people who toil, far away from the spotlight, at the service of culture and art.

"Now that the hour of retirement has arrived, I once again find myself returning to my first love, the organ, and it gives me immense joy to give concerts throughout France.

"And I take particular pleasure in seeing young performers take up the instrument I love, and hearing modern compositions fill a concert hall after a chorus of Johann Sebastian Bach. Because I realize that, with young people, the future of live music and the organ — the king of instruments — is assured."

Do you hear the organ music? François' Little Baroque Church. 
Third, the Trains

Of his love of trains (something Benjamin and I share), François says, "Now you know who's hiding behind the small train of Gif-sur-Yvette."

At his home outside Paris, and just north of Versailles, he has realized his childhood Le petit train imaginaire de Gif-sur-Yvette, (The small imaginary train of Gif-sur-Yvette). In fact, François has even posted a train-ride video on his site that's every bit as exhilarating as footage from the Great Train Robbery.

A colorful world of toy locomotives, miles of track, tunnels, mountains, and scenery fill his suburban garden. It turned white during the last snow fall, and a small Baroque church with an onion dome was almost buried in powdery flakes.

"On Christmas Eve," François says, "if you listen carefully, you can almost hear the church fill with organ music…"

Fourth, the Fold-out Crèches

François' collection of eleven paper nativities, includes a version of the Children's Créche, Censer Nativity No. 11, and two unusual, softly-colored fold-outs (see images, below).

I'm hoping to include more of François' collection on his Enthusiasts pages, just as soon as I have a chance to do a phone interview with him.

In the meantime, I'll be dreaming of again visiting France and beautiful Versailles, and, just north of Luis XIV's playground, get a train ride in François' garden.


Let us hear of your crèche world! For a glimpse of François Debreuille's, and an organ concert, visit his Web Site.

Two small, fold-out, nativities from François' collection in soft colors (French, circa 1946) — (Left) A stone, castle-like, crenelated manger features a five-pointed star above the keystone, a palm tree, and what one could call The Adoration of the Peasants who offer the Christ-Child fruit. (Right) This similar, art-wise, nativity, covers the stone, domed, manger with straw and add the Magi and far-away shepherds.  

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