Ten Years and Counting —
PIPORG-L Celebrates a Major Anniversary

Herbert L. Huestis, Ph.D.

Those of us whose careers span a fair number of years can remember discovering the magic of word processors and email as computers arrived on the scene as Commodore, Amiga and Kaypro, before the days of DOS, the PC-Junior, and ubiquitous IBM 8088. We shared a world of amazement and wonder as we explored this new technology. Computer clubs were the source of rudimentary skills — we brought our cumbersome "lunchbox" machines, with hundreds of diskettes neatly stored in red mechanic's tool boxes.

There were good souls who helped each other master electronic bulletin boards, and primitive communications programs that enabled burgeoning electronic mail. Most of us enjoyed bending our minds around these new concepts and in the early '90's the stage was set in the organ world for an electronic pipe organ list.

At the University of Albany, a "list server" was made available by Ben Chi, a systems manager who, with Dave Kelzenberg and Dave Schutt, created "PIPORG-L," one of the first and, definitely, the longest-running pipe organ discussion list. The idea of pipe organ "conversations" caught hold and through thick and thin, persisted. This once fledgling list is now ten years old and going strong! It boasts over 1,200 subscribers and, though this number fluctuates, it gives an immediate indication of how popular the PIPORG-L list is. January 15, 2003, officially marked its tenth year. I hope the three "list owners" celebrated!

There is a certain recreational quality about these specialty lists, and that characteristic seems to be at the heart of PIPORG-L. One can "tune in" on a variety of themes, but it soon becomes clear that the list thrives on variety — lots of it. Topics are as wide-ranging as one can imagine. Sometimes emotions rule, and exchanges can get heated. Flames lick at the fabric of the list, and from time to time, "owners" have to intervene. It's all pretty exciting, both to those who participate with gusto, and those who "lurk" in the shadows. There are some aspects that I have found endearing, if one may use that term in reference to an internet list. They are presented here, in no particular order, except as I remember them.

Conferences and conventions

Preceding an organ event, there is often a scramble amonst list members to meet and put names and faces together. This is welcome solidarity and makes for easy communication with organists who first meet at a convention.

Research

Many is the time that questions are aired on the list to help solve problems encountered by organ technicians and builders. In my personal experience, the organ list has made the difference between being well-informed and learning too little, too late to avoid bitter lessons. All that is required is to put out your S.O.S. message in a clear and concise way, and it will be answered, often with great thoughtfulness.

Time flies when you are having fun

An amazing aspect of the list, is the speed with which new organs are discovered and how they may be dissected in the course of a few days. There are no longer secrets in the organ world! The characteristics of a new organ, the room in which it stands, and the players who bring on its first breath of life, are recorded for posterity, and promulgated by official and unofficial observers and enthusiasts. Concerts and symposia on new organs are no longer events for the media and cognoscenti. They are open events, attended by live audiences which, through the efforts of list members, disseminate impressions and provide a "bird's-eye view" of pipe organ activities across the land.

It is said that the internet has actually failed to accomplish some of the big-ticket items that its corporate sponsors hoped to achieve. The fact that it has grown in an independent way, without de facto leaders, does not mean that it has grown without leadership. It just comes from within. This is a subtle point, but important, that the entity we call the internet, and all its subsystems, of which PIPORG-L is one, are free to evolve according to the input and output of its own members. This is a happy thought, as PIPORG-L enters its second decade.


About the author: Herbert L. Huestis, Ph.D., holds a music degree from the Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester, where he was a student of David Craighead. His graduate study was in psychology and education from the University of Idaho. He and his wife have been pipe organ technicians in the Pacific Northwest, since 1977. They specialize in careful organ renovations and the restoration of organ pipes, especially reeds. Their website features the work of the "Reed Doctor," and their contact addresses are hhuestis@mdi.ca and http://www.mdi.ca/hhuestis/.