Here's the scene. It is a piano recital for 2nd graders. Look around. The people there are the family and friends of the young pianists. You know who isn't there? Anyone else.
We certainly ought not be surprised by this - it is great to see a recital of a 2nd grade pianist if you know the child, but if you don't, you certainly aren't going to go take a 2nd grade piano recital in on your own. On an objective level, the music ain't that great.
At every Catholic parish, there are always a group of parishioners who know each other. The 10% who do 90% of the work around the parish. It was that way in my home parishes growing up, it was that way where I've been for summer seminarian assignments, and it is that way at the parishes I've been a priest at.
There are typically cantors known by the inner circle of parishioners, and those who know the cantors will cut the cantors a lot of slack.
Because they KNOW the person quite well, and are friends on some level with the person. They don't mind the music quality because of the relationship.
However, at every Mass, there are always a TON of people who DON'T know the cantor, and thus are much more likely to notice the OBJECTIVE quality of the cantoring.
The top two things that Catholic parishes are docked on are preaching and music. Are we paying attention to that?
There is an important movement that more and more dioceses are making a move on - a requirement that parishes pay their cantors. If we want to make the Mass something that speaks to people visiting, to those who are not already in the inner circle of the parish, then we do well to ask our cantors to meet some objective bench marks so that those who don't know them will not walk away having been completely distracted and put off by something so obvious as music quality.
Here's to hoping Catholic parishes figure this out sooner than later.