Friday, March 12, 2010

Should We Confront the Purveyors of Bad Music?

I have a serious question and I would like some input. I would like to know opinions concerning the propriety of confronting musicians after a Mass in which the music was catastrophically inappropriate.

Do you think it should be done?

Let me provide a case in point. You attend a Mass that is not the norm for you. Perhaps you are out of town. Perhaps it is just a different Mass than you usually attend. The music is barely tolerable but during communion, matters go completely over the top. The lead singer kicks up a praise and worship song in which he or she impersonates a Christian pop star with a microphone while a jazz pianist works the keys hard. It gets louder and louder and the singing ever more ridiculous.

This is Mass but the musical number here strongly suggests American Idol or the local karaoke bar. Maybe the performance itself is not bad from a technical point of view. But the spirit of the enterprise turns your stomach and you feel a sense of anger, because what it happening has nothing to do with the Roman Rite and everything to do with the ego of the singer. It is unseemly. Words like sacrilege come to mind.

The question is what to do about this. Should you walk up to the musicians after and politely speak your mind? What should you say? Of course you could talk to the celebrant or pastor but that is just imposing an uncomfortable obligation on him. The most direct route is to talk to the musicians themselves. But should you do this?

Consider that the musicians in question have every good intention. They believe they are inspiring people to follow Jesus. They believe that they are giving their talents to God.

They have never had it explained what the rite demands of them. They do not know anything about propers, about the ordinary chants. They know nothing of the Graduale Romanum, the music book of the Roman Rite. They have never heard of Latin or English chant. They have never been told that it is wrong to unleash this sort of performance at a Mass. They are completely unfamiliar with the spirit of the liturgy.

Because they are artists, however ignorant they may be, they are also sensitive. Negative words can crush and wound them. If you criticize what they are doing, they will think you are mean and uncharitable, even unChristian. They will hurt for weeks over your comments, and maybe it will hurt for years to come.

Not only that, they have spent hours in practice. They are not being paid. They are doing all that they know how to do to improve the liturgy and make it a moving experience for people. They can't even imagine that they are actually offending people. Not only that, no one has ever clued them that anyone could possibly be offending. They are so ill-read on the topic that they have never even thought to google "Catholic sacred music."

If you do not say something, however, the behavior will persist. They will never know that they should do some research. They will never know that they have obligations beyond just the usual performance obligations to show up and unleash one's talents. They will never know that Catholic ritual requires more than that. They will never know the need to read up a bit and adjust their attitude. Your comments will surely wound and crush and anger, but they could begin a search and change matters in their lives and in the life of the parish. You will have played a role in improving liturgy in our times.

Perhaps. On the other hand, you are also aware that no matter what you say, you will be treated like an ungrateful wretch and an ogre. You might earn lifetime enemies -- all for a few comments that might not make any difference.

And so I'm truly asking: should you say something or hold your peace in hopes that the musicians will find out some other way? Keep in mind that it is not clear precisely how the musicians will find out what they are doing unless you say something to them.

What does Christian charity demand? What does propriety demand? What does an appropriate zeal for liturgical excellence demand?

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: