Tuesday, January 03, 2006


"Hey! Mister Tambourine Man play a song for me,
I'm not sleeping and there is no place I'm goin' to..."
Bob Dylan (Robert Zimmerman) 1941 -
"Mister Tambourine Man" 1964

I'm going to begin this blog by cheating a little. The following story was written previously by me, but it pretty well explains a lot of what made my New Year's Eve special.


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.

* * *

Okay, so this is what happened on New Year's Eve. I went to a party at my friend the Babylonian's house. He's my Iraqi artist friend and he always has interesting people, including his room-mates, attending his parties. This was no exception. There's always music at these parties and this time there was also a selection of percussion instruments: bongs, congas, maracas, a tambourine, triangle, shakers and flutes. The music they had taped was exceptional, everything from exotic Afro to Middle Eastern to hot dance numbers. You could jam along using any of the instruments provided.

I started out with the maracas then tried the triangle. Except for kid's rythmn bands I'd never played a triangle before and it was interesting to really get into the music and make the dings and tinkles at the correct time. I got right into it! Then, the tambourine ....

Well, it's been twenty-five years since I last played the tambourine and I wasn't sure if I could still do it. It's not just a matter of standing or sitting and rattling it, but you have to get your whole body into it, dancing while you play. It only took me a few minutes to get over my inhibitions. I kept thinking of that absent chileno percussionist who was looking on (A. knew I used to play the tambourine but he never saw me do it) so I dedicated every piece I accompanied to him. I played with all my heart and soul. I greeted the New Year joyously, playing the tambourine. It was an amazing night, vibrant, happy, full of good cheer.

The next day I got up early to catch a ferry to the Island where I spent New Year's day with my three wonderful cousins and their families. It was an excellent New Years celebration. I truly believe that in spite of still trying to cope with my emotions over the loss of my chileno friend, and the usual stressing over finances ((I'm virtually penniless at the moment) there is a lot to look forward to and I'm sure 2006 is going to be a highlight year in many good ways. For starters, when I got home today, there was a call from A's daughter inviting me to dinner. This is one of the blessings -- that I am now included as a friend of his family. And maybe, if I'm lucky, I'll get a call in to work this week or next at the daycare.

"So there are no more words and all is ended:
The timbrel is stilled, the clarion laid away:
And Love with streaming hair goes unattended
Back to the loneliness of yesterday."
Joseph Auslander 1897-1965 "So There are No More Words." 1924

This seems a sad verse to end this blog on, but I was thinking of him...and how his musical instruments are stilled now...but we can carry on making music like I did on New Year's Eve and somewhere I'm sure he's smiling and dancing to the rythmns he loved so much.


Sam said...

What a lovely post!! I adored the story about you as a child, and the stage-fright, and the tamborine, lol. It was fun that you got up and played for New Year's eve - good for you!! I love music and wish I were more talented like my cousin, who can play any instrument and who sings beautifully. Or my mother, who used to teach piano!
Aren't kids funny? (referring to his aghast remark about you being his mom, lol) They simply cringe thinking about their parents in the public eye - imagine how difficult it must be to be the child of a celeberity.
(and I loved the end quote - very lovely!!)

Wynn Bexton said...

Thanks Sam, yes there was always music in my house when I was a child -- singing, piano, and grandpa played the trombone in the band sometimes. Dad always sang, his lovely Welsh tenor, and Mom too. When my kids were growing up we always had music too - and I believe my son was born singing! He certainly got interested in rythmn instruments early on and then the guitar!

Daisy Dexter Dobbs said...

Oh, Wynn, your post had me both laughing and crying. I loved this story! You told it so vividly that I could picture you at each stage--and ON each stage. LOL

What a warm wonderful basket of musical memories you’ve shared with us. Thank you!

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