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Alumna Launches Ensemble to Bring Hope and Healing through Music

November 15, 2019 by Elaine Rottman

Rebecca Shasberger, Class of 2011Cellist Rebecca Shasberger, Providence Hall Class of 2011, finds purpose and calling in bringing music of the highest quality to all whom God loves, in all walks of life. 

Ms. Shasberger works out this mission through Renovare, the string chamber ensemble she founded, and the strings classes she teaches at the Grafton Correctional Institution through through her faculty position at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Oberlin, Ohio.

“Renovare” comes from the Latin “to renew” or “to restore.” After earning a bachelor’s degree in music from Westmont College in 2015 and a master’s degree from the Cleveland Institute of Music in 2017, Rebecca began gathering an ensemble of classically trained musicians interested in sharing music at the highest level of artistry. Her dream was that the group would perform in diverse settings, from prisons to homeless shelters to psychiatric wards to concert halls, while showing love of neighbor, affirming the value of all people, and cultivating reconciled communities. The quartet, a nonprofit organization founded in 2018, is funded by grants and individual contributions.

“The vision for Renovare was born as we looked for where our deep gladness for making high quality music and the world’s deep hunger could meet,” according to the group’s website, renovaremusic.org. 

Some of the group’s programs join music and narratives to tell stories of those who are often overlooked by society. Examples include a collaboration with hip-hop students in inner-city Cleveland and a performance pairing the stories of those experiencing homelessness with musical selections to further illuminate their stories. 

Bringing music to unusual venues has been an exhilarating, stereotype-shattering experience for Rebecca. “I played for about 75 residents in a cinder block ‘chapel’ filled with plastic chairs at the Grafton Correctional Institution, a medium security prison nearby,” she related. “After playing a movement of Gaspar Cassadó’s Suite for Solo Cello, one of them remarked that it reminded him of a scene from Much Ado about Nothing. I don’t know what your stereotypes of people in prison may be, but this response certainly challenged mine!”

In the year since that performance, the men in Rebecca’s class have continued to inspire her with their insights, kindness, hard work, and dedication. “My perception has completely changed. To hear one of them talk about Shakespeare would not at all surprise me now! And that’s just the beginning of how my understanding has changed,” she said. 

One of Rebecca’s first experiences sharing music with people on the margins of society happened when she was a student at Providence. “The campus chaplain at the time, Ms. Kelly Soifer, took a group of us to serve dinner and lead a chapel service at the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission. I played some solo Bach as part of the service. Because I had preconceived ideas about the people I was playing for, I didn’t really expect them to enjoy the music. I was shocked that not only did they love the music and want to hear more, but that playing Bach created such a profound moment of connection and opportunity for sharing in our common humanity. That chapel service is one of a handful of formative moments that I point to when people ask me what inspired the formation of Renovare.”

Rebecca has also played solo performances and concerti with orchestras in the United States, Canada, and China and across Europe. 

When she doesn’t have her cello in hand, Rebecca enjoys reading, hiking, running, swing dancing, and visiting with her family: sister Sarah, Class of 2009, who is married and lives and plays with an orchestra in Bulgaria, and her parents, Elizabeth and Michael Shasberger, in Goleta.