How I use PIPORG-L

Michael Johnston

My name is Michael Johnston, and I started Michael’s Music Service. John Apple and I reprint old, out-of-print organ music and generally try to entice new faces to join us in appreciating the organ. I joined PIPORG-L the day I heard about it. I have been on the internet since before there was a world wide web, and I have had much experience with mail lists and newsgroups. I have joined some of each and have had experiences on other lists ranging from incredible snobbery to nearly all off-topic messages. Then, I heard about PIPORG-L.

After ten years of subscribing to PIPORG-L, I belong only to three lists, and the other two are concerned with a narrow slice of life insurance business software. I dropped the other lists or they blew themselves up! (This is not uncommon.) I still scan a couple dozen newsgroups, but it’s harder to get a decent signal-to-noise ratio these days with so much spam working its way into everything. So far, PIPORG-L remains spam-free!

Originally, I wanted to use PIPORG-L to read messages from others with my interest in the organ. This has been the greatest single benefit to me. I’ve exchanged email with people from over the globe about organs, organ music, and related topics. The nice part about a mail list is that it is easy to take the related topic discussion off-list and continue it as long as desired in email. I’ve answered a lot of questions through the years, but I continue to learn lots of interesting and often surprising things through the messages. The list owners have properly kept things on-topic, and with apologies to Robert Frost, that has made all the difference. I mention this because I sometimes get the feeling that many PIPORG-L subscribers belong only to this one list and they don’t know what happens on an unmoderated list (as is PIPORG-L) where the list owner doesn’t enforce an on-topic policy.

Flame wars were part of the internet since the beginning, and they certainly have their place on a list like this <g>, but since more and more less technical folks are joining and don’t understand flaming and its history and place, they are offended, put off, and then usually run off! This, of course, is not the desired effect. PIPORG-L has, no less than other topics, a veritable stable of warhorses that we members can trot out anytime we need a good crashing argument with plenty of vehemence and gore. Probably the sturdiest of these equines is the pipe vs electronic debate. Every new batch of subscribers feels the need to make their preferences known and argue and fight until someone from the other side concedes that they’re right and then joins their side ... which never happens. There are many colorful examples of off-topic posting; just check the archives if you’re curious.

I enjoy reading reviews of concerts from some of our subscribers. Some of these reviews are as good or better than what you’d find in the print magazines. In fact, some of what we read on PIPORG-L finds its way into the print magazines. We subscribers can be a valuable set of proofreaders, or perhaps “beta testers.”

Also, there is a sense of community that is part of a list like this. This community, like a physical community, boasts many facets of itself to offer, but the most valuable for someone such as myself who is without direct access to an academic community, is the “collected wisdom.” You may not have heard this term before. The collected wisdom is used to describe the combined knowledge and experience of everyone in the community. With well over 1400 subscribers, PIPORG-L offers a formidable knowledge base about all things organic. There is no other “place” on earth where one might ask questions about the tiniest piece of organ trivia and expect an answer or two ... both of which could be correct!

Conversely, I answer many of the questions when I know the answer, and I really enjoy the challenge of finding the answer when it appears to be unlikely or impossible to discover. I believe that the cobwebs of the mind are best cleared away with challenges. After school, one tends to settle in and forgo the pleasures of research because of time restraints or travel restrictions or any other reasons that are sufficient to assure oneself that it is not laziness which is the real preventative. Right now, I am looking around to find a reason for the discrepancy in a title of a little piece of Rheinberger organ music. By the time this article is presented, I hope to have the answer! The best part is that there are two other people, both PIPORG-L subscribers, one in Holland and one in America, that have taken part in the hunt.

It is also satisfying to read postings from friends I’ve made at conventions and concerts. I read more mail from the alumni of my old school, Westminster Choir College, than would be possible anywhere else. I can follow what happens at Piccolo Spoleto’s L’Organo recital series each year. I can follow the blossoming career of a young organist from the announcements of recitals to several reviews and critical opinions, and I even get to read the thoughts of the performer! And there is much more of value here because the entire affair is tremendously archived in a well-designed, easy-to-access database. PIPORG-L continues to offer the best place for lovers of the organ to exchange ideas and opinions, share articles, pass along advice, ask questions, promote organ recitals, artists, music, and recordings, read reviews, learn about organ technicalities – in short, all things organic. Happy Tenth Anniversary, PIPORG-L! Here’s to another ten!

About the author: Michael Johnston wanted to play the organ so he went to music school and got a couple of degrees. He still can't play the organ, but he sings well and composes. He makes his money by running a small computer network for an insurance company in Charlotte, North Carolina.