The Westmont College Music Department will present a choral “Masterworks” concert at 8 p.m. Friday and 3 p.m. Sunday at First United Methodist Church, 305 E. Anapamu St. in Santa Barbara.

Michael Shasberger

Michael Shasberger

The forces involved, in various combinations, will be soprano Celeste Tavera, the Westmont Orchestra, the men and women of the College Choir, directed by Michael Shasberger, and the Chamber Singers and Men’s Chorale, directed by Grey Brothers.

The featured work on the program is Francis Poulenc’s Gloria in G-Major for Soprano, Orchestra, and Chorus (1961), and we will also hear Johannes Brahms’ Vier Gesange (Four Songs) for Women’s Chorus, Horns and Harp, Opus 17, Dan Forrest’s “His Robes For Mine” for Strings and Male Chorus, and the Gloria of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-94).

The relation between musical modernism and religion is as complex as the relation between literary modernism and political thought. Jean-Paul Sartre notwithstanding, the many 20th-century writers associated with “Modernism” came down considerably to the right of center in their politics. T. S. Eliot identified himself as a “Royalist,” Wyndham Lewis was a member of Tom Mosely’s British Fascist Union, T. E. Hulme was an avowed militarist, Proust spent his life with aristocrats, Ezra Pound was an admirer of Benito Mussolini, and whatever James Joyce’s politics were, they were not Marxist.

A parallel development in music witnessed the composition of the 20th century’s greatest sacred music within an ultra-modernist soundscape, by men who were, to all appearances, sophisticated citizens of the world: Igor Stravinsky, Ernest Bloch, Krzysztof Penderecki, Olivier Messiaen and Poulenc.

Because their best work so often seems to come from places to which they have no conscious access, composers tend to be believers. Their sacred music is not of the saccharine pop pieties of the megachurches, but has a struggling, uncertain sound that faces the darkness head on, much as Dame Edith Sitwell faced the Blitz: “Still falls the Rain—-/Dark as the world of man, black as our loss—-/Blind as the nineteen hundred and forty nails/Upon the Cross.”

It was not easy finding faith in the 20th century; still more difficult was hanging on to it.

General admission to Westmont’s concerts is $10; students are free.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at The opinions expressed are his own.