The Art of Orchestrating: Dr. Shasberger’s legacy of music and praise

Kelly Vivanco, Staff Writer

Known for his stellar achievements both in the Westmont music department and in the larger Santa Barbara community, Dr. Michael Shasberger will retire from Westmont College this summer after 17 years of conducting, teaching and performing at the institution.

Hired in 2005, Dr. Shasberger was endowed the Adams Chair of Music and Worship, a position created when the Adams family donated funds to the college for this purpose. Dr. Shasberger explained that Steve Adams, one of the donors, wanted to see “a change of culture in the campus,” and Dr. Shasberger aimed to carry out that “wide, open-ended charge.”

Dr. Shasberger immediately sought to “reinvigorate the music major”: expanding it to five distinct music degree programs, changing Westmont into an all-Steinway piano school, and achieving accreditation for the music major by the National Association of Schools of Music (NASN). “We were one of the first programs at Westmont to be so [nationally] accredited,” he said.

Dr. Shasberger also founded the orchestra.

“We didn’t have an orchestra [before 2005],” explained Dr. Paul Mori, music professor and director of various ensemble groups. “It’s become such a successful program that people think it’s been around forever, but all that came about because of Michael Shasberger.”

Dr. Shasberger explained that there had been multiple, short-lived attempts to found a Westmont orchestra over Westmont’s first 60 years. In Dr. Shasberger’s second year at Westmont, however, the music department hired a full-time string professor and “built a full orchestral program from the ground up” in only three seasons.

Fourth-year computer science and music double major Isaac Siebelink, who plays viola and violin, described playing in this orchestra under Dr. Shasberger: “You definitely get the sense of wanting to be there and … wanting to play well. I think that bleeds over from him … especially when you can tell how into it he is.”

Siebelink highlighted not only Dr. Shasberger’s devotion to music-making, but also to “the idea of music-making in worship.” For example, besides collaborating with the campus pastor to lead a new hymn every week this semester in chapel, Dr. Shasberger serves as the cantor —  or music director — for Prince of Peace Lutheran church, which meets on campus in Deane Chapel.

“Wherever he goes,” Siebelink stated, “he is totally wrapped up in the idea of all music that we do as being worship and praise to God.”

Carrissa Corrigan, an oboist and third-year music education and history double major, agreed: “It’s really cool that not only do I get to learn about music from him, but also different forms of music and praise.”

Part of his legacy, Dr. Mori expressed, is “the availability of student scholarships.” Both Siebelink and Corrigan said they met Dr. Shasberger when he recruited them for the music department, and scholarships played a large role in their recruitment.

Corrigan reflected, “[Dr. Shasberger] does so much to serve Westmont and the community, and he’s always still filled with such a lively spirit and [is] so intentional. I really admire how he cares for each and every one of his students. Orchestra is … not just a class. Dr. Shasberger turns it into a community.”

Dr. Shasberger summed up his time at Westmont in two words: “career fulfillment.”

He explained that, at the end of graduate school, he wrote out what he wanted in a job: “a place where I could perform and where I could teach in a Liberal Arts setting, within two hours of a major metropolitan center, with a Christian focus and faith-centered.”

Looking back, he noted that between graduate school and Westmont, his different jobs always lacked at least a couple of these key components, but he adds, “I can see now that they were all preparing me to do [this] job. The call to Westmont — to the Adams chair — really synthesized all of those experiences and landed me exactly where I had said I wanted to be thirty years earlier.”

Dr. Shasberger looks forward to many things in retirement, including the flexibility to invest more time in children and grandchildren and in competitive athletics, such as cycling and running. “I have my 26th or 27th marathon scheduled for November,” he said.

“I’ve always had other passions in life besides music — such as history and genealogy — that have been dormant for a very long time,” Dr. Shasberger said.

He admitted, “There’s always risk [and a sense of anxiety] in change, but I have an optimism that pervades those changes.” He said he considers this May, coming fresh out of COVID-19, as the appropriate time for him to retire, not only for the music department, but also for him and his family.

“There are a lot of good gates to pass through,” he said. “I’m looking forward to finding the best in them.”

“He has this unique combination of extreme optimism, but also pragmatism,” mused Mandy Kellogg, administrative assistant to the music department, “which is certainly a force to be reckoned with. He sets lofty goals, but then he reaches them and oftentimes surpasses them to a significant degree!”

“Have you ever met anyone with more energy?” Dr. Mori asked. “There’s no “off” switch for the man.” Jokingly, he attributed the energy to “all that bicycling!”

Dr. Mori added, “Some people don’t know his sense of humor, but when it comes out, it’s pretty hilarious.” He shared a story from an orchestra tour in Italy one year, where Dr. Shasberger “commandeered control of the tour guide’s radio transmitter” to share “little-known facts of history” that he made up on the spot.

“The college owes a lot to him,” Dr. Mori summed up. Accomplishments like the Westmont orchestra, the Christmas Festival and music scholarship programs will “outlast his tenure here and benefit students for years.”

“A farmer,” Dr. Shasberger reflected, “plants a seed and wants to see the crop come in, and I think we’ve seen crops coming in, but the fields are still maturing. So, I’m really thrilled that I could be a part of starting some of that, [see] good people all around it contributing to it, and [know] that there is a great future of harvests yet to come.”

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