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Salvation Army leader brings home the music

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Serena Doars

Serena Doars, the leader of The Salvation Army London Citadel Timbrels, is not a stranger to Bermuda.

The Canadian has strong ties to the island and considers it her home away home.

She will be visiting this weekend with her brigade, as one of the international guests at the 22nd Annual Spring Festival 2018, taking place tonight at Ruth Seaton James Auditorium at 7.30pm.

She tells us more about her connection to the island and what it means to be performing here this weekend.

What is your personal link to Bermuda?

I was born in Canada, but both my parents are Bermudian. They moved to Canada in the 1960s, so I grew up visiting Bermuda often, though I never lived on the island. Much of my family is still here. As a child I would visit my grandparents, aunts and uncles, which was a regular occurrence for me. When I was a teenager and could travel on my own, I started to visit Bermuda to see family and had established friends and connections with The Salvation Army church here. My grandfather, Bernard Doars Sr, was the bandmaster at the Hamilton Citadel Corps (now North Street Corps) at one point and my other grandfather, Bradford Simmons, was bandmaster at Cedar Hill Corps. They are both deceased but obviously had an influence on my parents’ involvement with the Salvation Army and music making. My grandmothers were also involved heavily in the church in Bermuda. My grandmother Otavis Doars still attends the North Street Corps, while my other late grandmother Jean Simmons, attended the Cedar Hill Corps and lived in the area.

What was it like being exposed to The Salvation Army’s band camps as a child?

The Salvation Army used to have a music camp in Bermuda every summer and they still do in North America, but not in Bermuda any more. My dad (Bernard Doars Jr) was invited in those days to come back to the island as a guest conductor and he brought my sister and I. That was the first time I was able to participate in the Salvation Army music ministry in Bermuda. I was able to make friends and spend time with my cousins, so after that trip when I was 14, that became a key experience for me because it was the first time I really had a good, accurate memory of spending time in Bermuda.

So what does it mean for you to be returning to the island to play at the 22nd Annual Spring Festival?

More than anything, I’m excited for the people connected with the London Citadel Timbrels in Canada to see my home in Bermuda. My dad grew up playing in Bermuda before moving to Canada and with me being an instrumentalist, people will come up to me and say, “I used to play with your dad”. Everyone knows him out in Canada as “the musician from Bermuda”, who was passionate about making music with The Salvation Army and ministering to people that way. I’m just excited to show people about this place that I talk about so much. I want the young people coming from Canada to be exposed to this island that’s my home away from home and to see not only the place and the concert, but at the church service on Sunday how lively and passionate the congregation here is — and how unique the enthusiasm is. In Canada, our churches have lots of music and it is rich in that tradition, but I can’t describe it, it’s just different here. I love going to church here and always plan my flights so I am at least here for one or two Sundays.

Your dad was a musician, so you grew up around instruments. What made you get involved with music?

There was always music playing in the home. My dad was always playing any kind of music. He had a huge record collection so we would be listening to classical, brass bands, jazz, church hymns, R&B — everything from Barbra Streisand and Willie Nelson. So I grew up enjoying listening to music, but also picked up on playing it. I started whistling before I could talk. I started playing the cornet when I was seven and my dad started to teach me at home for a year and then I started playing in the young person’s band at church, and stuck at it all through my childhood and teen years. It wasn’t something stressful for me. I quite enjoyed making music and learning to play and trying to build myself that way. I didn’t end up studying music at university. I went a different route and went more with the social sciences and went on to become a teacher. But as fate would have it, my first teaching position was teaching primary school music in Ontario.

You are now teaching young people through The Salvation Army London Citadel Timbrels. How did that come about?

The Timbrel Brigade was something I grew up participating in. My leader when I was a child was Ruth Ruthersford and she taught a bunch of us the theory of music and how to play the tambourine. It was part of my weekly music lesson. We would have our practice for half an hour. The Timbrel Brigade is like a choreographed tambourine experience. Someone described it once as synchronised swimming with tambourines. You are moving to the music, but it’s all choreographed. The music we play is always based on scriptural hymns and has a scriptural basis. I started teaching the Timbrels when I was in university and there was a need for a new leader because they didn’t have anyone to lead the brigade at the time. I’ve been helping the group ever since. I teach the oldest group of students. They are ages 12 to 23. There will be 12 members of the band coming down to Bermuda.

For those who have never heard the Timbrel Brigade play, how would you describe it?

It’s a very unique visual display that is rhythmically exciting, fun to watch and hopefully the people in attendance will see us enjoying ourselves. That’s the biggest thing. We are up there having fun and I hope they are able to pick up on that because we really do enjoy what we do.

This is also a faith-based ministry for you. Why is that something important — for you to use music to point people to God?

The Bible does give permission to use music to glorify God and highlight all of the power and glory He has, so people can be so moved by the music that they come to know more about Him. We see this as a way to encourage young people to get involved in sharing their talents for God also. These girls start out at 12 years old and it can be nerve-racking for them to get up in front of so many people to perform, but I have watched many of them become confident over the years. Not only in terms of playing their instruments, but in sharing their testimonies and sharing a scripture reading with the crowd. It’s developing their ability to minister in other ways as they develop their musicianship as well. Not everyone is a singer or can play instruments, but we don’t turn anyone away due to lack of experience. If they are able to commit to weekly rehearsals and try their best, that is all that is needed. Through the Timbrels, we have been able to be exposed to great speakers, preachers, musicians and people of faith from all over the world and so it becomes a bigger picture than just getting together and playing our tambourines. It keeps us together as a global family of God and strengthens our connection to Him.

Tickets to tonight’s 22nd Annual Spring Festival, $15 to $20, are available at Music Box, Caesar’s Pharmacy and The Salvation Army Churches island-wide

The Salvation Army London Citadel Timbrels