Dorothy Gates, senior music producer for the Salvation Army’s Eastern Territory, speaks with SAConnects about her favorite Irish town, Cuban Salvationists, and how music can be a form of expression that transcends words.
Since I was 13, I’ve been writing music*. One of my earliest musical memories was taking John Lennon songs and turning them into trombone quartets that we could play in our trombone section in the Y.P. Band. I play trombone, as my father did; and piano, as my mother did. My love of music is only made greater by the fact that I can use it to express my faith. I think that’s what connects music to an audience. They can sense what you are trying to get across to them—without words.
When the New York Staff Band traveled to Cuba, what stood out for me was how the Cuban Salvationists fully embrace Salvation Army culture. Cubans have lived under such a militaristic government for so long that one might think they’d be hesitant to accept titles, ranks, or even uniforms. Instead, they accepted them and even embraced them with pride and fervor. It was a beautiful thing to see, and it was a joy to perform our music for them. Part of me wanted to step away from my instrument and just be in the audience, among the Cuban Salvationists.
I feel a kindred connection with the people who live in nations that are going through political difficulties. It’s an understanding that is difficult to explain unless you’ve lived through it. Years ago, I remember seeing news footage of little coffins being carried through the streets of Palestine. It hurt my soul so much that the only way I could express how I felt was through music. I wrote a piece called “Hope,” which has a Middle Eastern sound to it. Music takes over when words fail to describe the pain and the empathy felt in a person’s heart.
My faith as a child was developed in Northern Ireland, and The Salvation Army played a huge part in that. Both my parents were officers, and our Army upbringing was strong. Northern Ireland was a country in political turmoil—almost a civil war–like atmosphere. As a child growing up there, it was a scary time. But The Salvation Army was my refuge. It offered so many activities for kids and young teens that it kept my mind distracted from the havoc going on outside its walls.
The town of Donaghadee in Northern Ireland is gorgeous. It’s a seaside town with a lighthouse. God’s power is in the sea and it’s refreshing. The town is a beautiful, peaceful place that I often visited with my family. We enjoyed shopping, having dinner, eating ice cream, or just going for a weekday drive. For me, it’s a nostalgic place.
My husband Mark and I just celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. We’re really opposites, and I know that’s true for many couples, but it’s something that makes our relationship exciting. Together, I feel God takes our differences and unifies and uses them to form a cool little union. Learning to live with our differences is always a challenge, but getting to this point in our marriage is a trophy of grace. God is definitely working in our lives.
*In 2011, Dorothy Gates earned a PhD in music composition from The University of Salford in Manchester, England.
Interview by Hugo Bravo