An Anniversary of Note – Ten Years of PIPORG-L

David C. Kelzenberg

PIPORG-L is celebrating one of those "zero" birthdays, its first since the day it went live. At this significant milestone, I'd like to share some reminiscences and offer my own reflections on this technological marvel and my own involvement with it.

Many are surprised to learn that I have not been "here" since Day One, although I learned of the existence of PIPORG-L and became a subscriber not many months later. As fate would have it, an old friend from graduate school, John Seboldt, had returned to Iowa City for a visit, and showed up at my office on the same day I heard about PIPORG-L. The idea was intriguing, although I probably would not have subscribed had John not been there. He has always been interested in technology, and he encouraged me to give it a try. So, with only a little prior experience with e-mail (and no prior knowledge of what a "listserv" was), I dutifully followed the instructions that had been passed along to me, not really knowing what to expect. A few minutes later, with John watching expectantly over my shoulder, I received the familiar auto-acknowledgment of my subscription, and my first list posting arrived shortly thereafter. I was hooked! (So was John – he also subscribed as soon as he got home, and remains a subscriber to this day.)

Like many other PIPORG-L "newbies," I was fascinated by this technological wizardry; by the fact that I could converse in almost real-time with organ enthusiasts from around the world-something I had not imagined possible before that moment. Also like many newbies, I jumped in with both feet, contributing my "two cents" on nearly every topic, feeling compelled-OBLIGATED-to respond to almost every posting, staying up late every night to follow interesting threads, or just to see what might next appear in my inbox. My own interests are rather eclectic, so I happily joined in discussions about nearly every sort of organ and organ music, from historical trackers tuned in mean-tone with sub-semitones and short octaves, through the most recent stellar work of Fisk, Brombaugh, Taylor & Boody, Mander, Austin, Wicks, Allen and (insert your favorites here), including everything between and around those historical extremes. (I'll bet you never thought you'd see some of those words together in the same sentence!)

After several months I was beginning to have a better understanding of the medium. I was learning that sleep was sometimes more important than PIPORG-L, and that not everyone was poised at the edge of his or her chair, just waiting for my revelatory responses. Still, the discussion was lively, and I was enjoying myself tremendously-perhaps too much. Imagine my great surprise when a personal message arrived in my inbox from Dave Schutt, the listmeister, the father of PIPORG-L himself! Had I broken some rule, or committed some other transgression? Was I about to be cast out into the wilderness-the world outside of PIPORG-L? As I read Dave's note, I began to wonder if this was a joke, a game, a forgery... Would I be interested in taking over the reins of PIPORG-L, assuming his place as co-owner (with our great benefactor Ben Chi)? My response, after verifying that I had not fallen asleep at the PC again, was something along these lines:

  1. "You want me to (gulp) buy you out?
  2. "How much would that cost?
  3. "Why me?"

After an assurance that list ownership entailed no monetary outlay, a description of the pleasures and responsibilities of list management, and the explanation that he liked my writing style and eclectic interests, and "had a feeling" I would become a serviceable list administrator, the torch was passed. It has been my very great pleasure to collaborate with Ben in the administration of this wonderful list since that day.

In the intervening years, many changes have taken place, and many subscribers have joined, contributed, left. Somewhere along the line, I saw a need for and started HPSCHD-L, our "sister" list devoted to stringed early keyboard instruments. Ben was again kind enough to provide server space through the generosity of his employers at the University of Albany, and has served that list as co-owner as well. Many will remember our designing of a PIPORG-L logo, and several offerings of official PIPORG-L (and HPSCHD-L) shirts, buttons, and key rings. Several other organ-related lists have splintered off at various times; some of these have flourished while others have languished.

I'd like to reflect briefly on some of my favorite contributors from earlier years. This is not meant to detract from our knowledgeable contributors of today-contributors such as Seb Gluck, Malcolm Wechsler, Steve Roberts, Agnes Armstrong, and others whose posts I seldom fail to read. But there have been some intellectual high points during earlier times-some provided by subscribers who are no longer with us, others by current subscribers who are no longer able or motivated to the extent they were in past years. Here's my short list of favorites, in no particular order, provided with a fervent wish that any or all (who have not gone on to that great organ bench in the sky) might return to grace our virtual pages yet again (yes, this is an invitation!):

  1. Carlo Curley. Carlo is one of our most successful and controversial concert artists. Most are familiar with his larger-than-life persona, both as a red-blooded romantic performer and musician, and "in the flesh" (although, when last we met, he was steadily adding holes to the inside of his belt). It should be no surprise that his prolific writing style is similarly larger than life, and his frequent postings to PIPORG-L were voluminous both in size and entertainment value. There was always a great deal of knowledge behind the verbosity, but Carlo's style and sense of humor were inimitable-his posts were just plain fun to read.
  2. Stephen Bicknell. Stephen wrote a number of fascinating and convoluted fictional tales for PIPORG-L, at least one of which was serialized. A remarkably talented writer, he managed to imbue these parody pieces with a quasi-historical and artificially stuffy narrative style that created just the right sense of understated humor. As a bonus, thinly disguised references to PIPORG-L subscribers, luminaries of the organ world, and celebrated instruments were often components of these stories. In an entirely different vein, Stephen also allowed us to preview (and critique) scholarly articles and chapters prior to their publication. Fortunately, some of his best efforts have been preserved and may be read on the PIPORG-L website.
  3. Jim Riggs. Jim is a true renaissance man of the theatre organ. His knowledge of its history, mechanism, and (if I may be so bold) performance practice may be unsurpassed, and while an active subscriber Jim generously shared this knowledge via a series of witty and well-crafted posts. I particularly enjoyed his humorous "tag lines," very funny one-line quips (always related to the topic of the post at hand) that followed his signature. But there was always a substantial quantity of meat before the dessert.
  4. Allen Miller. Few know more about what makes a Wurlitzer work and sound great than Allen. His knowledge of the ATOS, its history, and its personalities is encyclopedic. Allen patiently answered many questions and provided a great deal of information to me and others, and his posts were always thorough, reasoned, and easy to understand.
  5. Dean File. Dean was an early subscriber to PIPORG-L, perhaps among the very first group of subscribers. I quickly discovered that he was a fellow Iowan, and a sense of kinship developed between us. Dean's posts were not "flashy," but his frequent participation revealed him to be a sensitive and thoughtful musician with good ideas and an engaging writing style. He also talked openly about his battle with leukemia, which claimed him a couple of years later. I hope that his participation, and the obvious joy that it brought him, distracted him at least temporarily from the realities of his illness.
  6. Will Wu. Our original "professional dilettante," Will probably inspired more discussion on PIPORG-L than anyone else before or since. Will was fascinated by all things organic, and peppered the list for many months with questions about the organ and how it worked. We even invented a term-"wu-isms"-to describe the exuberant questions of an enthusiastic neophyte.
  7. Larry Chace. Larry's posts are always interesting and full of factual details. I remember valuable information provided on topics as diverse as Wurlitzer stoplists and specifications, and Hinners organs.
  8. Pieter Visser. Pieter provided a series of interesting articles written from the organbuilder's point of view. His pithy comments on a variety of mechanical issues were always thought-provoking and sometimes controversial.
  9. Allan Ontko. Another respected builder and restorer, Allan regularly provided accurate commentary from a technical perspective. He also regularly reported on organ-related events from the Spoleto Frestival.
  10. Tim Tikker. A walking encyclopedia of the "serious" side of our instrument, Tim regularly provided detailed information in response to many questions, and covering a broad range of organ history, literature, and trivia. Tim is also a respected composer.
Without going into as much detail, I must also mention a few other regular contributors from earlier times who consistently provided posts of the highest intellectual quality and/or the greatest entertainment value: Al Sefl, Elizabeth “Soosie” Towne Schmidt, Guy Henderson, Robert Ridgway, John Ledwon, Mark Renwick, Susan Tattershall, John Seboldt, Robert “Texx” Woodworth, Lee Ridgway, Ken List, Glenda Sutton, Dan Miller, Rick Elliott, Peter Rodwell, Dave Schutt, Darryl Ray Miller, George Horwath, Michael Laird, Don Walker, Chris Anderson, Maureen Jais-Mick, Kevin Scott, Frank Vanaman, Pat Maimone, and Stephen Smith. I’m sure there are others whose efforts I have appreciated but whose names escape me at the moment.

I must pay tribute to two great friends and colleagues who are more responsible than anyone else for our reaching this auspicious milestone. David Schutt conceived the idea for PIPORG-L, and his original vision for this list (as an eclectic forum for discussion of all kinds of organs) was a significant factor in its attracting a broad and diverse contributor base, and in its broad appeal and endurance. Dave's quiet demeanor and ever-present smile obscure the fact that he is another "walking encyclopedia"-this time of the theatre organ and its history. We were complete strangers before our lives intersected via PIPORG-L, but Dave has become one of my closest friends in the intervening years. And, were it not for my co-owner and list partner Ben Chi, our technical wizard, PIPORG-L would surely not be what it is today. While we came to PIPORG-L from two different directions/perspectives, our goals, methods, and style of management are remarkably consistent. Ben and I discuss many administrative details "behind the scenes," and I have come to respect his vast knowledge, sound judgment and good sense. We have also become very good friends, and I look forward to many more decades of collaboration.

Others have commented on the multifaceted attributes of PIPORG-L-the level of knowledge and expertise shared daily by our diverse group of subscribers, the sense of collegiality we enjoy (perhaps "family" better describes our close-knit virtual community), the speed with which information can be exchanged over great distances and between hundreds of individuals. Of course, we have witnessed our share of strife, discord, and downright nastiness too: Many organists cling to their own aesthetic preferences with a fierce tenacity, often rejecting other points of view with an almost religious fervor. Elitism and narrow-mindedness are no strangers in the organ world, and PIPORG-L has provided the vehicle for more than a few arguments.

But for the most part, PIPORG-L has proven itself to be a remarkably valuable resource for the organists and organ-lovers of the world. At its best, PIPORG-L has exceeded the wildest early expectations of Dave, Ben, and Yours Truly. It has been and continues to be widely recognized and critically acclaimed as the standard bearer for an entirely new form of intellectual discourse within the world's musical community. You, dear PIPORG-L subscriber, are on the cutting edge of 21st-century technology through your participation in this forum. The future is today, and we are the new pioneers, paving new ways for knowledge to be shared and disseminated.

Happy Birthday, PIPORG-L, and many happy returns!

David C. Kelzenberg
Iowa City, Iowa