Mr. Tambourine man

From a very young age, my sister could play almost any kind of instrument my parents threw at her. She began playing the piano by ear when she was barely able to reach the foot pedals. She quickly picked up the accordion, drums, and various other instruments without any professional training whatsoever. I, on the other hand, could only play the tambourine.

Music was a huge part of worship in our Pentecostal church. Almost any member of the congregation who could play an instrument was happy to get on stage and share their talent. Voices, instruments, and clapping hands united to bring the congregation to the brink of frenzy on many occasions.

I was probably around 8 or 9 years old when I first picked up the tambourine. I had been admiring the talent of an older girl as she provided some much-needed percussion to the church’s soundtrack. Carla didn’t just bang the tambourine against her wrist, she played softly on the verses before revving things up at the beginning of the chorus with some fancy hand and wrist gestures. Since our services were more spontaneous than planned, she could use that wooden circle of cymbals to keep a song going just by playing the fancy part again at the end of the chorus. The congregation would obediently continue singing.

When I first began playing, I lacked the most important element of being a good tambourine player… timing. I remember sitting near an elderly woman with glorious white hair piled on top of her head. As I would feebly attempt to imitate Carla, I would frequently get out of rhythm. The elderly woman would smile and shake her head in my direction to let me know I needed to get back on track. It didn’t take long until I had learned enough from my mistakes to be as good a player as Carla.

As my playing improved, the pianist began to rely on my tambourine. She would nod at me when she felt a song needed a little something extra to get the churchgoers in a more worshipful spirit. I would pull out my tambourine and start banging my wrist until it hurt. As I watched those around me become enraptured in the moment, I was happy to have played some small part.

Playing the tambourine was mostly done by women in the church, so one night after service I was ridiculed by a younger boy who told me “only girls play tambourines.” I don’t like that guy to this very day. I get more than a little satisfaction when I see a male performer (like the lead singer of Young the Giant) playing the tambourine on stage.

It has been several years since I last picked up a tambourine. I haven’t been to a Pentecostal church in many years, and the church I now attend has a much different idea of what constitutes music than the church I grew up in. It doesn’t keep me from missing it though. Anytime I see Stevie Nicks on television, twirling in a cape, her tambourine adorned with streamers, I am reminded of the scenes from my childhood. Whether in a secular or religious setting, music has a universal way of charming those in its presence and transporting them to another dimension.

Is it any wonder I recently added a tambourine to my Amazon wish list?