At the heart of Stonehill College, in the quiet Chapel of Mary, you will find a Northeastern University mathematics graduate, sitting behind the piano.
Philip Pereira, the music director at Stonehill since August of 2015, said that working full-time in music, his hobby since he was 13 and later passion, was something he never expected to be able to do.
“It’s funny, because I never thought about it much as my ‘passion,’ but almost more as an ‘obligation’... not as in something I am forced to do that I do not enjoy, but I see it as my musical niche.
“I had never intended on making a career out of music. I figured I would work full-time in a cubicle somewhere, then always have my ‘weekend job’ as a liturgical musician. But I found a higher calling... I feel like this God-given gift is to be used for His purposes specifically,” Pereira said.
Originally from New Bedford, 38-year-old Pereira has been playing the piano classical organ for most of his life.
“We had a small electronic organ at my parents’ house, and my older brother and sister both played at church,” Pereira, who now lives in Dartmouth, said. He has been a part of religious music direction since he was 13 at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in New Bedford.
Pereira said he didn’t always plan to be a musical director, though.
“I majored in mathematics with a focus in accounting,” he said. “My jobs after college were all accounting-related, and before coming (to Stonehill) I was working as an office manager for a rock climbing gym for over 10 years.”
What drove him to continue to play music was his passion for the spirituality of liturgical music. “All throughout that time I always had my side job of weekends working at parishes and doing funerals in the morning,” he said. He has worked as musical director at St. John the Baptist, St. Michael’s in Fall River, and now Our Lady of Guadalupe in New Bedford.
“It’s the ministry aspect of it. It’s the fact that it’s not really a concert, you know, it’s doing it for the purpose of helping people pray,” Pereira said.
This passion to help others grow in their spiritual life also helped him develop a relationship with his religious beliefs, he said.
“I feel like it’s the way I can live my faith and it’s the easiest way to live my faith... it’s the one I’m most familiar with,” Pereira said.
As the years went by, Pereira said, he has been more open to music being a bigger part of his life than accounting. He said he felt like there was more life had to offer him, that he was being called to a greater vocation.
“I never thought there would be an opportunity for a full-time job where (music) is pretty much all I do,” he said.
He said he is happy at Stonehill College.
“It was an unexpected but natural progression of things,” he said about becoming a music director full-time and leaving his job as an office manager.
Pereira said he also uses music as a creative outlet, even though he prefers traditional liturgical style. He said his youth choir at St. Michael’s Parish has recorded three CDs in his time as their musical director after college.
At Stonehill, he said he has found both a space to be creative but also a way to incorporate his love for improving people’s spiritual life at mass through song.
“I found I could do more involved pieces here because the students are older and have a better natural ability (to sing),” Pereira said.
He looks back on his time at Northeastern University as a mathematics major and chuckles. He said he knew that while that path was one that brought him financial stability for some part of his life, his real fulfillment came within the music he was able to help create.
“It’s really helped me learn so much more about music now that I’m exposed to it every single day... liturgical music is a passion of mine, without a doubt,” Pereira said.