As a resident of the Soviet of Washington, I have endured my share of "Hey! Check me out! I'm a MUSIC MINISTER!" "ministry". We all have, no doubt, our horror stories. I figure there are two basic ways to approach such matters. One is to lose your Christianity and call it "righteous anger" (a favorite approach of the anger addicts so often found in the reactionary dissent wing of the Church who snort bitterness like crystal meth and tell themselves they are thereby accomplishing some great good for the Kingdom of God). I have never seen any good--any good whatsoever--proceed from this approach. All it does is corrode and destroy the life of grace in the soul, alienate people who might otherwise have been attracted to the faith, and ensure that harried priests and music ministers who might otherwise be open to reason are frightened off by that pissed-off guy in the back pew who does nothing but murmur, grumble and complain. [...]Read the rest here.
That said, of course, there is, as well, the fact that some music comes close to (and some music actually constitutes,) if not sacrilege, then at least an assault on the ears, on good theology, and on the prayers of the people (as in your case). Reactionary dissenters are often very quick to leap to 'sacrilege' as the charge. I'm not so convinced. Often music ministers are doing the best they know how with a willing heart of praise. To spit on their efforts too swiftly may put you in the position of spitting on the widow offering her mite: something I would not advise having on your resume at the Pearly Gates. But other times, you may really be dealing with the raw insertion of ego into the liturgy (I remember a woman in our parish who just could not refrain from jamming in a lick from Dave Brubeck's "Take Five" at the end of the (admittedly dreadful) "Sing of the Lord's Goodness" (both are in 5/4 time).) All it did was shout "Hey! Look at me! Aren't I witty?"
The first recommendation of the tradition to such little mustaches being painted on the Mona Lisa of the Mass is prayer. If we feel anger (and emotions will do what they do) then our task is to turn it to action, not just sit there stewing. A quiet and supportive word to the pastor--mainly emphasizing that you appreciate his hard work, while sandwiching in some positive way of directing the music toward its focus (i.e. God, and not the music ministers or our celebration of our Usness), with another slice of living bread again thanking him for his hard work and pledging what support you can give him--can go a long way. It's more or less what you want to hear on your job, right? Do you want to hear "You suck, you incompetent moron! Do better!" or do you want to hear "I'm with you all the way. Here's a place I think could improve the already fantastic job you are doing so that you will rock even more!"
Regular readers already know that I'm a member of my local parish choir, also known as the "music infliction team." (Just kidding. Sort of.) As a choir member with strong traditional leanings, I love it when we sing great old music and well-done newer stuff; I also hate it when we sing the gobs of utter dreck out there, most of it newer for the simple reason that the really old dreck doesn't tend to survive all that long (for an example of old dreck, see here. Yes, some traditional-minded people would argue that this piece is lovely and wonderful just because it is old, but I'm sorry--this is bad on so many levels: theologically, musically, poetically--"By the light of burning martyrs..."?? Really?? etc.). The point is that bad music existed before the Second Vatican Council, but bad music couldn't really do all that much to the tone of the Mass when hymns were relegated to an opening and closing hymn on occasion, with choir-produced chant, motets, etc. filling up the rest of the musical "space," so to speak.
Of course, even before Vatican II there were sometimes problems with a "runaway choir" which dragged out long chant settings and left Father waiting at the altar to proceed with the Mass. And the often-quoted passage by then Cardinal Ratzinger, “Whenever applause breaks out in the liturgy because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of the liturgy has totally disappeared and has been replaced by a kind of religious entertainment...” is not exclusive to the post-Vatican II Mass; one problem (mainly in Europe) before Vatican II is that some tourists and other non-Catholics had a tendency to treat Masses as free concerts, to show up when some really good choir had some particularly challenging classical Mass setting planned in order to listen (and applaud) just as if they were in a concert hall. It is sobering yet funny to realize that at least our terrible post-Conciliar music has all but ended that practice, as you can hear better music almost anywhere besides a Catholic parish these days.
One of the biggest problems I have as a choir member is that the music books we use--the dreaded OCP hymnals--contain a large selection of music which is simply not good; some of it is theologically wrong, while other pieces are just trite or silly. I have more patience for the trite and silly than I used to, though, because I've encountered many people, both in real life and online, who tell stories of how this or that hymn means so much to them because it was sung at a relative's funeral or a wedding Mass or some other deeply moving occasion. For the theologically inept, though, I have less patience, and have voiced my opinions on occasion to our choir director, who is a thoroughly nice person and a good friend. The problem, though, is that the theologically bad stuff is there, in the hymnal, with the bishops' approval, and without the leadership of a good, musically inclined pastor it's almost impossible to get rid of that stuff altogether--I've even had pastors (in the past) who enthusiastically like some of the terrible stuff so much that they are pleased when it is scheduled and will ask for it when it's not. How are mere lay people supposed to say, "But, Father, doesn't this hymn really contain the heresy of consubstantiation?" when nobody else seems to have a problem with the piece?
Some people hear their parish choirs singing that sort of thing, and just give up. They close their hymnals, glare, and dream of better days. I used to be one of those people--until I realized that, having a fairly decent singing voice, I could probably do more good by being involved in the parish choir, even if it meant occasionally singing stuff I hate. And the truth is, most choirs are sorely in need of people who can sing and will show up for practice (mostly men; there are usually enough women, though not always). The funny thing is that since I've been in the choir I've realized that some of the traditional hymns will cause the same hymnal closing, glaring behavior among those people who hate the "old stuff," either because they associate it with bad memories from their young days, or because they are convinced that we have to "stay relevant" in order to attract teens, who apparently love music that was written in the 1970s or something.
If you can sing or play the sort of instrument that is appropriate for sacred music, and if you are not already so over scheduled in your life that a weekly hour or so of choir practice would be impossible--yet you prefer instead to sit in the pew and grumble about the music--then, my friend, I'm sorry to have to tell you, but you're part of the problem. I was, too (though there were some years when my girls were too young for me to contemplate being in choir; I don't want to make things harder for moms of young children who would love to be singing but can't for the near future). It's true that you won't transform a V-II choir into a schola cantorum overnight (and the thing that's holding us back from attempting some of that lovely Latin music is that we.have.no.bass.voices.and.can't.get.any.more.men.to.show.up....sorry, but I found a lovely 4-part piece for Easter the other day and realized that since the parts separate and layer and weave in and out we can't do it without experienced basses), but you'll never be able to expect that a handful of people who can barely (but enthusiastically) sing the melody line of rather simple pieces are going to be transformed into a choir capable of sacred polyphony unless you're willing to lend a hand.
Now, I realize that for many good singers the issue really is time, or the scheduling of practices, or a bad past experience with a choir director who refused to sing anything but "Gather Us In," or some such thing. But for others it's the same issue that keeps them from volunteering in other capacities at church: a fear of the committment, and of getting in over your head in some way. Still--why not try? We've had a few people join but then leave when they couldn't make practices or found the music too challenging--but there were no hard feelings, and we'd welcome any of them back in a second even if they only wanted to sit with us for one Mass and sing the melody line of the hymns.
Can you sing? If you can--and note, I'm not asking if you're a trained singer and can sight-read music and so forth--then instead of complaining about the dreadful music at Mass, why not see about joining the choir, provided you can make the time in your schedule without being overwhelmed? If you like good music, if you'd like the music at your parish to improve, if you'd be willing to work on and practice the good pieces to the best of your ability, if you can make even the not-so-good pieces sound better by using your good voice to give it a full, rich sound--why not try? If it's better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness, surely it's better to sing a clear, pure note than to cover your ears against the discord, right?