1. Ham. As the story goes, a young wife was cutting off the last section of the ham — about a sixth of it — and discarding it before she put it into the pan and into the oven. The husband asked why she was doing that. She replied, “Well, to tell you the truth, I’m not sure, but my mother always did it.” So they asked her mother, who said the same thing — that her mother had always done that, but she wasn’t really sure why. So they called the grandmother on the phone, and asked her. Her reply? “Oh, honey — I only did that because my pan was too small for the ham!”
Thoughtless repetition can sometimes waste decent ham. The wife was not thinking about the why of the thing.
2. Horns. I gave an assignment, a few weeks ago, to draw seating charts for concert bands of two different sizes. As the seating charts came in, I noticed a repeated idea — that the horn section should be positioned on the 3rd row, to the conductor’s left, on the very edge of the group. Nearly every student had the horns in this same spot. The thing is, horn sound goes more in one direction than the others: sound emanating from the horns is projected far to the horn-bell side of the composite ensemble sound. When the horns are positioned all the way on the left wing, the result is that the horn sound is experienced as separate from the rest of the band. This is not a good thing. (And this is an even worse place for horns than the other side, which can cause the horn sound to arrive “late” since it goes first to the back of the room/stage before bouncing to the front.)
There might have been some thought put into this particular horn position at some point, and it’s not bad for some music if you have really good 3rd and 4th horns — but in the case of my students and their assignment, thoughtless repetition had taken over. Students were not thinking about the why of the thing and were merely regurgitating a pattern they’ve come to accept.
Sometimes there’s no really good reason to continue doing what you’re doing.
Like, oh, I don’t know . . .
- continuing to cool and maintain a auditorium/sanctuary built for 355 when only 55 are attending?
- hiring a preacher when there is no sustainable source of funding for said preacher (and less need for a preacher than the congregation might think)?
We need to think about the why of the thing before we get roped into decades of thoughtless repetition.