Before she married Dad, my mother was a nurse in a Salvation Army hospital. She played the tambourine in the Salvation Army band.
Perhaps that’s what inspired her that Christmas when I was four years old, to teach me to play the tambourine. We were living in Lloyminster Saskachewan where my Dad was the pastor of a Baptist church. Because it was then a small railroad community, all the local churches went together at Christmas to produce a Christmas concert. That year, Mom decided she would dress me up in her Salvation Army bonnet and show me how to play the tambourine. She also taught me a verse to recite for the concert. It was to be my debut on stage.
I don’t remember my exact role in this Christmas pageant, or what other children would perform. I do remember, very clearly, being coaxed onto a stage in front of what seemed like an audience of hundreds of strangers (probably just twenty or thirty.) I was absolutely terrified.
I stood there, dressed in mom’s oversized S.A. bonnet, my hair coiled in Shirley Temple ringlets (a procedure done the night before by Mom, each hank of hair wrapped carefully in rags). I was probably wearing one of the lovely hand-smocked dresses Mom made me, and those horrid brown ribbed tights (because it was a freezing Prairie winter day). I was carrying a large, jangling tambourine - the same tambourine Mom used to play with the S.A. band.
As I stepped (or was gently pushed) onto the stage, I heard a long, audible gasp from the audience.
“Ah...” and “Oh...”
Bewildered, I stared down at that vast sea of faces, frozen with stage fright. Someone from the wings prompted me, or possibly it was Mom herself coaxing me to perform.
I gave the tambourine a few tentative shakes and sputtered out my lines. “I will shake my tambourine for the Lord.”
To this day I remember those exact words and how I felt at that moment. Mortified and scared stiff!
A titter from the audience; another loud chorous of : “Ah...” And, whispered audibly behind hands. “Isn’t she cute...”
I could have died on the spot of embarrassment. Instantly I burst into tears and ran off the stage into my Mom’s arms.
Segue ahead four years. I’m eight years old and it’s Christmas Concert time at school. By now we are living in Brantford, Ontario.
I suppose because of my ‘experience’ I am chosen to play the tambourine in the class rhythm band for the Christmas concert.
We are dressed in red pill-box hats and capes and paraded onto the stage.
In the photograph taken of this performance, I am crowded, tiny and shy, in behind the bigger kids. I am not smiling. I probably had stage fright. I do not look happy to be playing the tambourine. Possibly I had hoped to be a drummer or triangle player.
Why then, did my career as tambourine player follow me all the way into my adult life?
Segue again, many years into the future, the 1970’s. I am living in a communal house with my kids and a renegade band of hippies. There is always music in our house. My son, age 14, has become an ardent guitarist. There are always musical instruments at our communal gatherings, including a tambourine.
Inspired by the beat of the music, one day I picked the tambourine up and began to tap and shake it to the rhythm of the rock beat. The tambourine player in me was resurrected. From then on, I practiced and always played the tambourine at parties.
Eventually, one Saturday afternoon at the jam session at the American Hotel, I got brave enough to get on stage with the band and play. I was good, so good in fact there was one particular drummer who would always request me to accompany him.
By now, my son was an accomplished Blues musician. He said he was going to play at the American Hotel jam session.
“I play the tambourine there on Saturdays,” I announced.
He looked at me aghast.
“You mean you get up on the stage and play the tambourine?
“Yes!” I said proudly. “And I’m good at it too!”
“But you’re my Mom!” he sputtered.
I don’t think he knew it was my Mom who had taught me how to play
the tambourine in the first place, at that Christmas concert so long ago.