“The stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naive forgive and forget; the wise forgive but do not forget.” Thomas Szasz
Like many of you, I’ve had a few teachers in my time who would announce—often–that there is no such thing as a “stupid question.” No one was asking questions and the teacher must have felt they needed to spur things on, surely folks had questions? That is actually when the most stupid questions seemed to seep out, usually to their horror. But not everything is a stupid question that seems like a stupid question.
In rehearsals, I’ve heard questions about page numbers and the like when clearly the page, measure or rehearsal number was announced two minutes before. Stupid question? Not really, but the singer was not paying attention. It is time wasting and, if it happens enough, irritating. And if it happens enough, can be considered to be a stupid question. I learned NOT to mention stupid questions at rehearsals long ago, or I will be inundated with them. That doesn’t mean stupid questions don’t happen anyway. It’s how you handle them. And if you don’t have a way of handling them, try to figure out how to handle the types that irritate you the most before they get asked. Because stupid questions waste time and THAT is irritating.
Maude* tells me the thing that drives her right up the wall is stupid questions and the time she wastes because of them. She has a whole rubric of questions she considers “stupid.” The most stupid and irritating to her is the page/measure/rehearsal number question I mentioned above, especially if it was mentioned right before that question was asked. She has trained her top high school choir from asking those questions by clearly stating the page number (etc.) twice before they begin, and then ignoring anyone who asks after that. It is a bit jarring for her new students but once they understand she is not going to repeat herself, they pay attention.
Please don’t misunderstand, Maude WANTS her students to ask questions, and even encourages them. She wants them to ask about an articulation or dynamic or a Latin pronunciation. She wants them to ask about a composer or a vocal technique or even why a piece was composed. She believes those things are important to understanding and performing the music. A good, honest question, whether from curiosity or from something else, is a chance for the educational process to progress. But things that are distracting from the music and the rehearsal process, those she believes are the “stupid” questions.
Next on her list of stupid questions are those that have nothing to do with what they are working on right at that moment. Wanting to know the date of the spring talent show surely can wait until AFTER rehearsal. Late September is NOT the time to ask about the spring concert unless she brings it up. It is also not the time to ask if there will be a change in concert dress for the winter concert. Most days, she tries to end rehearsals a few minutes early so questions like that can be answered. Her choirs are trained to wait until the end of rehearsal time for any non-music question. Maude also encourages her choirs to text her so she can make announcements at their next rehearsal. She hates to waste rehearsal time and if reserving a few minutes at the end of rehearsal for all those sorts of things means less wasted time, overall, those few minutes are worth it.
Maude has learned having certain policies in place has helped cut down on wasting time AND stupid questions. Are there any techniques or policies that have helped you with “stupid questions” and wasting time in your rehearsals? Please share below in the comments!