PIPORG-L's Tenth Anniversary

Malcolm Wechsler

I am pleased to have been asked to write a few words on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of PIPORG-L, because it strikes me that this is an occasion to be celebrated with some solemnity. How good it is to be a part of the observance of the completion of a whole decade of all that PIPORG-L offers. My very first posting happened early in September of 1995, but I'll tell you when, where, and how I got really hooked on this list, and when our relationship (PIPORG-L and me) came into its maturity (don't laugh!). I had flown to Portland, Oregon on Bastille Day, 1997, to attend that summer's OHS convention, Powerbook in hand to avoid, horrors, a week without access to e-mail!

Opening day and evening of the convention was rich and full. I dare not go into detail about all that we heard, because it will lengthen this essay inordinately. In short, during the day, we heard several splendid and wonderfully-conceived concerts, using some very lovely instruments, played by fine musicians. The afternoon concluded with a concert of Jewish service music, performed in the ravishingly beautiful 1920s Temple Beth Israel with its 1920s five-division Reuter Organ. John Strege is the musician there, and with the Temple musicians, he gave us a varied feast of music for the Jewish liturgy. After a fine church supper, we ended our day with Douglas Cleveland's superb concert on the great Rosales at Trinity Cathedral. The post-concert reception with exhibits was in the shop of Bond Organbuilders, a chance to catch up with any old friends not yet seen earlier in the day. I got back to the hotel quite late, already loaded up with happy memories and good feeling, knowing that there were several more days to go!

What suddenly came to my mind, through my exhaustion, was the great importance to our larger Organ community of all that had taken place and all that was yet to happen at this convention. Somehow, people other than those in attendance needed to know the details of the performers, the music, the instruments, and the venues, all of which I was lucky enough to experience. The light bulb went on. There is PIPORG-L, just perfect for getting the word out, and there was the faithful Powerbook. And so, I experienced the first of several VERY late nights, slaving over the computer to document that convention. Boy, was I on a mission, and I suppose I clicked "send" on that first report at about 3 a.m., and yawned a great deal on the buses the next day. I experienced that day, and in subsequent days, a wonderful feedback from local attendees who are listmembers, and from out-of-towners with computers on board, all expressing exactly what I was feeling - that what was happening in Portland was just too good to keep to ourselves. I was thanked for getting the word out, and that was gratifying in the extreme. Happily, I soon devised a technique for getting a bit better in the sleep department, carrying my laptop onto the bus, and for runs of 15 minutes or more, grabbing the back seat, bouncier but roomier, and writing as much as I could before we reached the next venue. Before going to Portland, I was already fully convinced of the value of PIPORG-L as a medium for communication within our profession, but that convention reporting experience completely solidified those feelings within me, feelings which have not changed in the years since that summer of 1997.

So, I have found a kind of uncompensated métier - in the course of the years since Portland, I have written, on PIPORG-L, between fifty and one hundred reviews of concerts by a wide variety of players. I was in Atlanta to hear the 18 semifinalists of the Calgary International Competition in Spivey Hall, and was able to write detailed information about each performer's solo recital. Given the quality of all the performances, hearing 18 hour-long recitals in the space of three days was a delight rather than being a chore, and through the medium of PIPORG-L, I was able to tell that story to the many list members shortly after the competition. But, most satisfying to me is that the international membership of PIPORG-L learns something about organists and organ playing in the U. S. Also gratifying is that a number of listmembers around the country have begun contributing reviews of organ concerts they have heard. Thus, PIPORG-L contributes to the health of the organ recital world by making the work of players better known, by broadening the knowledge of repertoire, and by giving information about instruments of which a reader might not otherwise learn.

It's a community, albeit a "gated" community, by which I mean that there are clear rules to be followed, rules that keep the list on topic, thus reserving the precious bandwidth for what we really joined the list for in the first place. I learn something of interest and use every single day, and I don't even have to ask Martha! Also, I am enabled to share whatever knowledge and information I might have about topics that are explored by the membership. Is it better to give than to receive? In this context, it's a wash. Each day, members give what they can, and receive much in return. All of this activity creates a strong community of interest, and how good it is to be at a recital or a convention, and to meet someone from the list heretofore unknown. "Oh gosh, you don't look at all like I expected you to." But, other than in appearance, it is remarkable to realize how much many of us really do learn about one another (and even one another's dogs!). Meeting someone new, from the list, often begins with words that really are a continuation of a long-running conversation.

We are international! To be sure, most readers and posters are in the U.S.A., but to all of our benefits, we have members from Germany, Spain, South America, the U.K., Norway, France, Italy, Taiwan, and Canada. Whom have I forgotten? We have in our midst professors of organ, often willing to give of their knowledge, organbuilders always willing to offer advice without a sales pitch, a Dom organist from Germany, a scholar whose book on Alexandre Guilmant will soon be published, an organist/organbuilder from Venezuela who has given us gripping accounts about his life in that country of neglected organ treasures. We have artist managers who keep us informed about upcoming recitals by those they represent. We have touring virtuosi themselves, one of whom we have followed with interest since he was 14. We have ministers of various denominations, who occasionally remind of us of things we would prefer to forget, but need to remember! We have university organ students, who bring their own sometimes irreverent perspectives to the stuff of our profession. We even have our own resident Professional Dilettante who is also presently writing the Great American Organist's Novel. Are we not diverse and wonderful?

Dave Schutt, who started all this ten years ago (did he have any idea where it would lead?), and David Kelzenberg and Ben Chi who are now running the store, deserve all of our thanks and praise for creating and keeping this forum alive! "How did we ever get along before _______?" Insert the word of your choice - perhaps Telephone or Television, but you may also add PIPORG-L. It is hard to quantify its value to us, so great a resource is it, and for this we offer our thanks!

Malcolm Wechsler
New Fairfield, Connecticut