When I was a student, I’d sit in lectures scribbling down everything that the lecturer wrote on the board. Like most people there, I understood very little.
This one guy would put up his hand and ask the lecturer a naive question and the rest of us would breathe a sigh of relief. That’s what we wanted to ask, but had been too ashamed to!
The lecturer would patiently answer the question with no trace of condescension.
That’s when I realised: there are no stupid questions.
In fact, simple questions are often very good bullshit detectors. Asking a naive question can often reveal that a so-called ‘expert’ doesn’t really know their stuff and is relying on jargon and reputation. Try it sometime.
Your choir leader may know more about music than you do, be a better singer, have more choir experience and generally be an all-round whizz. But that doesn’t mean that they’re better than you or are right all the time or are unapproachable. We choir leaders are human too.
If you’re not sure about your starting note or the structure of the song or what ‘minor third’ might mean or when your part comes in, then ask.
You might think that everybody else knows what’s going on, but you’d be surprised how many others are as confused as you (see also You are not alone – most people in your choir think they can’t sing well).
Try to ask your question at the right moment rather than interrupting something else or leaving it too late. And don’t end up asking questions all the time or being the only one.
If you’re not clear about anything at all, then approach your choir leader. It doesn’t have to be in front of everyone else. You can have a private word. Whatever feels right to you.
Make sure your question is a genuine question though.
Sometimes a question can be code for “I’m doing it right, but I think the person next to me is wrong.” It’s what they call ‘passive-aggressive’. Don’t ask a question in order to make a point, but because you genuinely need to know.
I’ll be writing about ‘tittle tattle’ in choirs in a later post!
No matter how ‘stupid’ your question may feel, it may well end up helping lots of people, not least your choir leader. If singers don’t ask questions then choir leaders will happily carry on doing whatever it is they’re doing without realising that some of it is confusing, too fast, very difficult, going over everyone’s head or even boring (see also Why feedback is important when teaching and learning songs).
The thing is, there really ARE no stupid questions. If you don’t know, you don’t know. The only thing that’s stupid is not knowing and refusing to ask.
Think of questions as ways of helping your choir be the best it can.
Do drop by and leave a comment to share your own experiences of asking (or being asked) questions in choir. I’d love to hear what you think!
PS. If by some chance you feel that your own choir leader doesn’t respond well to questioning, then you might want to read How to tell if your choir leader is rubbish.