Threats to Lyric FM endanger a heritage that should be especially dear to Catholics, writes Rachel Sherlock
It has emerged of late that RTÉ is allegedly considering the future of their classical music station Lyric FM in light of their ongoing financial crisis. While we will have to wait for the coming weeks to get the full plans, I will be one of many waiting with bated breath to see if and how our beloved station survives.
I have long been largely disillusioned and occasionally disgusted by our national broadcaster, and yet Lyric FM has never ceased to have my loyalty. I don’t believe myself to be alone in this. The station pulls 237,000 weekly listeners, a relatively small number in comparison to 2FM’s 839,000 and Radio 1’s 1.3 million. Nevertheless they are a devoted lot, and with good reason.
Lyric FM remains a truly excellent example of public service broadcasting, providing not only great programming but a wealth of benefits to listeners. It spotlights the best of concerts and cultural events across the country, as well as providing a platform for the excellence and talent of Irish musicians and composers.
The location of its station in Limerick decentralises RTÉ from the Dublin bubble, a reminder that culture is not just the prerogative of the capital.
Perhaps even more to the point, it delivers high quality classical music programming into every home in Ireland, democratising something which has often been the privilege of a select few.
In the spirit of this outreach, I have long been impressed with Lyric FM’s ability to make classical music something enjoyable and accessible even to casual listeners. Its passion for classical music is without a sense of preciousness or even snobbishness, as a good number of their programmes blend the carefully curated classical pieces with other pieces from a wide range of genres including traditional music, film scores, folk music and even some pop and rock.
At its heart however, Lyric FM’s programming is about carrying on history’s great traditions of classical music. The benefits of classical music have been consistently demonstrated in everything from IQ to mental health. Beyond its usefulness it is something beautiful, and what is beautiful should always be treasured and championed.
The Masses of Mozart are not likely to be heard in many Irish churches for Sunday services”
Indeed the heritage of sacred and classical music should be particularly close to the heart of Catholics. In 2015 Pope Benedict XVI wrote the following reflection: “In no other cultural sphere is there a music of equal greatness than of that born in the realm of the Christian Faith: from Palestrina to Bach, to Händel, all the way to Mozart, Beethoven, and Bruckner. Western music is something unique, having no equal in other cultures.
“And this – it seems to me – should make us think. Certainly, Western music greatly surpasses the religious and ecclesial sphere. However, it finds its deepest origin in the liturgy, in the encounter with God.”
The Masses of Mozart are not likely to be heard in many Irish churches for Sunday services, and there might not be many there to hear them if they were. That they are still to be heard on our radios should not be taken for granted.
Yet, despite the many virtues of its programming, the allure of Lyric FM, in some ways, lies as much in what it doesn’t broadcast, as what it does. It dedicates a very minimal amount of time to current affairs, listing only news headlines and omitting all news commentary.
Oasis of calm
This leaves Lyric FM an oasis of calm, as it resists the ongoing trend in broadcasting to pit factions of the country against one another to see who has the loudest voice. In doing so, it opens a space not only for art, but also community.
This reminds us of something that we have perhaps lost sight of in today’s news-obsessed culture. While the politics and economic policies of the day are what make the headlines, there are other parts of our culture that stretch into eternity, and these should not be neglected.
C.S. Lewis touches on this in The Weight of Glory when he says: “As long as we are thinking of natural values we must say that the sun looks down on nothing half so good as a household laughing together over a meal, or two friends talking over a pint of beer, or a man alone reading a book that interests him; and that all economies, politics, laws, armies, and institutions, save insofar as they prolong and multiply such scenes, are a mere ploughing the sand and sowing the ocean, a meaningless vanity and vexation of the spirit. Collective activities are, of course, necessary, but this is the end to which they are necessary.”
By all means, let us take politics and current events seriously, but if in the pursuit of these we cast off our higher goods, our love of culture and history, art and community then we will find ourselves seriously astray. The potential loss of Lyric FM would be a damning symptom of a culture so caught up in the mechanics of society that it forgets to enjoy the fruits of it.
Rachel Sherlock is a writer and host of Risking Enchantment, a podcast about art, literature and Catholicism: www. rachelsherlock.com