From a young age, two interests have captured the imagination of Fernando Berwig Silva: faith and music. When he decided to pursue a Master of Sacred Music (MSM), Perkins was a clear choice.
“The program really is set at the intersection music and theology,” he said. “We go between Perkins and Meadows. We have the best of two great worlds.”
Berwig Silva starts his second year in the program this fall, with a focus on composition and arranging.
Berwig Silva has followed in the footsteps of Marcell Silva Steuernagel, who is director of the MSM program — twice. Berwig Silva served as worship director at a Lutheran church in Brazil – a position previously held by Steuernagel Silva – then came to Perkins.
“Marcell held the same job in the same church that I held, and that’s why I came to Perkins,” he said. “I was here for a few visits for some conferences in North Texas. I saw that Perkins has a very strong and diverse community of people interested in building connections that go deeper than academics. That was very exciting to me.”
Now, as he contemplates his future, post-Perkins, he’s considering an academic career in sacred music.
Music for Easter
Berwig Silva serves as a Chapel Assistant at Perkins, working with Dr. Mark Stamm and another Chapel Assistant, Mykayla Turner, to plan services, schedule preachers and plan and lead music. Last year, for a special worship service honoring the memory of murdered Salvadoran Bishop Óscar Romero, Berwig Silva composed a piece, “Ojos Que Han Llorado.” The title means “Blessed are those who cry,” a reference to a teaching from the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:3-4.) Dr. Hal Recinos preached at the service.
“The message was that it is a blessing to cry, as part of following Jesus, because those who cry can understand happiness,” he said.
Berwig Silva describes his style as contemporary, “with a European vibe but definitely with a Brazilian touch.”
“My undergraduate school was a 20th and 21st century avant-garde music school,” he said. “It’s atonal, maybe a little creepy, different music, not easy to listen to. It’s pushing the boundaries – trying to make you think and reflect in a way that you wouldn’t otherwise, trying to make you grow a little bit.”
Another piece he’d written over the years, entitled “Three Meditations on Christ’s Crucifixion,” premiered at the Chapel service for Easter 2022.
“It’s three parts, which were written in very different times of my life, but generally reflecting on Easter and Good Friday,” he said. “Those pieces were already written but I revised them for the service, and Dr. Chris Anderson performed them. It was wonderful.”
Berwig Silva also plays piano and sings as a member of the Seminary Singers at Perkins. These opportunities to compose for Chapel services convinced Berwig Silva that he made the right choice in coming to Perkins.
“Theology and music are everything I like to do,” he said.
A Big Move
Coming to the U.S. to study at Perkins marked a big transition for Berwig Silva. Not only was he immediately immersed in another culture and required to speak another language — it was also first time to live on his own.
“I’d lived with my family in the same apartment since I was a kid, through my undergraduate years,” he said. “The cultural immersion has been fun, but it’s also definitely been challenging.”
He admits that he’s occasionally homesick for his family and for Brazil. He misses Brazilian food, including the classic rice and beans meal that many Brazilians eat for lunch each weekday (“It’s not so much the food as the routine that I miss,” he said) and pastel, a Brazilian street food, like empanadas, made with assorted fillings inside a pastry made with cachaça, a sugarcane drink. He also misses following his favorite soccer team, Athletico Paranaense. In his hometown of Curitiba, Brazil, some 50,000 people turn up at the stadium twice a week to see the games.
“I miss the communal vibe of Brazil,” he said. “Communities are very important for existence. You’re almost never alone. I miss that mindset. Americans are more individualistic.”
Two favorite Bible passages guide Berwig Silva in his studies and in his life. Creatively, he’s inspired by John 20:30-31, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book.” He likes the idea of unlimited possibility that it suggests.
As a youth, his confirmation class chose John 13:15 as the class verse — words that Jesus spoke as he washed the feet of the disciples: “For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”
That teaching remains close to his heart today.
“That’s what guides my main ministry, this understanding that what we do is to serve others,” he said. “It’s not about ourselves. It’s about reproducing the model that Jesus gave us.”