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Last week, we looked at music newsgroups, including a few ways to access them. Today I'm returning to this subject, to investigate what actually happens in a typical newsgroup - what type of messages do people post?

Listening in ...

For this investigation I chose a busy, fairly general group - with a fairly general subject - classical music - and with about 100 messages appearing on a typical day. For the purposes of writing this article, I monitored the group for about two weeks.

Requests for information

Requests for information are the mainstay of this group's existence. The scope and level of these postings vary enormously. Many enquiries are about particular pieces of music or recordings. Here are some typical example requests (paraphrased for brevity):

  • Q: We bought Holst's Planets Suite - where is Pluto?
    A: Pluto hadn't been discovered when Holst wrote this suite.
  • Q: Anyone got an e-mail address for the BMG Music Club?
    A: Try
  • Q: On which editions was the VPO New Year's Day concert based?
    A: Since 1994 the VPO has been using Bärenreiter's 'New Johann Strauss Complete Edition' (Strauß Edition Wien) edited by Michael Rot.
  • Q: Any recommendations for recordings of Pohjola's Daughter and Tapiola?
    A: Various ... a discussion starts. Which brings us to ...


Newsgroups are designed specially for discussions. Replies to messages are grouped into 'threads', so that all the replies to a particular message can be read together. The biggest discussions often begin quite innocuously. When I monitored the classical music group, the discussion sparked off by the recent film Hilary and Jackie was still smouldering. Here are some of the questions or statements that began discussions. To read the replies, you'll have to visit the newsgroup (or use the search engines if you're reading this later, and the messages are no longer available normally).

  • Does anyone think Prokofiev's 7th symphony underrated?
  • We want to program some compositions based on older music. Any suggestions?
  • I hate the soft passages where some flute player is 25 feet away from the mic.
  • Does anybody know any uses of human breath as a musical instrument?
  • Originality vs. greatness (the original message seems to have long gone, but the thread has metamorphosed into a discussion involving mathematical equations for comparing composers!)


These are easy to organise on a newsgroup - simply ask. Similar to a discussion, but people just reply with their answer. Current surveys underway:

  • Who are your favourite most neglected and most underrated pianists?
    (In response to this, someone immediately posted the results of a previous survey held in the italian classical music newsgroup it.arti.musica.classica - results ... Maurizio Pollini 108, Sviatoslav Richter 94, Glenn Gould 79, A B Michelangeli 78, Vladimir Ashkenazy 63, Vladimir Horowitz 56 etc.)
  • What is the best CD of music by Varese?
  • What music would you like played at your own funeral?
  • What is the wierdest instrument (and the best composition including it)?
  • What is the scariest composition and why? (All sorts of answers here - Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima by Kryzstof Penderecki, Night on a Bald Mountain by Mussorgsky, the end of the last scene of Lulu by Alban Berg, Black Angels by Crumb, Eight Songs for a Mad King by Maxwell Davies, Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries and the opening of Ravel's Concerto for the left hand.)


The latest happenings in music - such as appointments to prestigious posts or deaths - usually appear on usenet very quickly, and often lead to discussion. Robert Shaw's death in January 1999 was marked very quickly on with an obituary and much discussion, for example.

Concerts is better for concert announcements, but you'll occasionally notice some at too. Example: Chick Corea and the London Philharmonic Orchestra will be performing Chick's Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (and also a new commission) in Vienna, Austria on March 30th 1999. Someone replied to ask if the concerto would be recorded and released, and the answer posted was yes - there are plans to record the concerto and also an orchestral version of Spain in April for release later this year.

Web sites

Many web site promoters use the newsgroups to advertise their wares. Some of these postings are very interesting. Here are some interesting recent announcements (again paraphrased):

Sales announcements

Again, a representative sample:

  • Download a demo of the J S Bach Counterpoint study method
  • Furtwängler on Vinyl - download a catalogue in Word/Wordperfect (RTF) format
  • Grove's Dictionaries has slashed the prices of its music products!

Updates and bulletins

Various organisations post periodic newsletters and updates to newsgroups. These can be very useful. The regular FAQ (Frequently asked/answered questions) 'Which Classical Music Newsgroup', for example, is posted fortnightly to, and helps those wishing to post messages to do so in the correct place. Another example, again posted regularly to, is the 'Difficult Listening Playlist'.

Spam and irrelevant postings

Newsgroups are often deluged with irrelevant material. It is not necessary to subscribe to a newsgroup to post messages, which makes it very easy for the unscrupulous to pepper the newsgroups with irrelevant junk. Some are easy to spot, with titles (often entirely in capital letters - the internet equivalent of shouting) such as 'MAKE BIG MONEY - FAST AND EASY' (a typical chain letter). More interesting than these postings are the replies from music enthusiast users of the newsgroup. Responses to the message I mentioned above, for example, include 'Imagine a pyramid made of Spam' and 'Whole message forwarded to'. Other postings appear to be designed as a deliberate wind-up, or as frivolous replies to sensible postings.

Conclusions is alive and kicking. Although the 'signal to noise ratio' is often less than perfect, much interesting information can be found in this group. (If you don't know how to access newsgroups, please read last week's article.)

Keith Bramich, February 9th 1999

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