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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

(Redirected from Steel drums)

Steelpan (also known as pan, steelpan, or steeldrums, and sometimes collectively with the musicians as a steelband) is a musical instrument and a form of music originating in the island of Trinidad located in the Caribbean.

The pan is a pitched percussion instrument, tuned chromatically (although some toy or novelty steelpans are tuned diatonically), made from a 55 gallon drum of the type that stores oil. In fact, drum refers to the steel drum containers from which the pans are made; the steel drum is correctly called a steelpan or pan as it falls into the Idiophone family of instruments, and is not technically regarded as a drum or Membranophone.

Origins and controversy

There is controversy concerning the steelpan's origins. Although it is reported that Winston "Spree" Simon took an old biscuit tin, and beat it with a corn cob to form a steelpan, the history of the evolution and development of the steelpan is more complex and nuanced than that. While Simon may have been the first to use biscuit tins, it quickly turned to ash cans and the steel drums made unintentionally available by the United States. Bunches of young African men can be credited with contributing to the steel pan. Only having scraps as their primary resources they used what they had to preserve aspects of their culture in the space of the Caribbean. Clearly being influenced by the mixture of those on the islands along with the desire for African drums, steel pan was formed. The development of the pan took place largely during WWII, the first record of a pan band in the press being in a report of the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival in the Trinidad Guardian dated Tuesday, February 6, 1940.

Steelband, Port of Spain, early 1950s
Steelband, Port of Spain, early 1950s
The BP Renegades Steel Orchestra
The BP Renegades Steel Orchestra

One of the oldest steelbands in the world is The Neal & Massy Trinidad All-Stars which celebrated its 71st anniversary in 2006.

Early bands were essentially rhythm bands. However during the 1940s discarded 55-gallon steel oil drums became the preferred type of pan and, perhaps noticing that constant drumming changed the tone of the pans, techniques were developed to tune them to enable melodies to be played. During WWII, tamboo bamboo bands, who usually performed during Trinidad's Carnival began using steel drums discarded by the US military (see Destroyers for Bases Agreement) to make advanced versions of their instruments. Ellie Mannette is credited as the first person to use an oil drum in 1946. By the late 1940s the music had spread to neighbouring islands.

In 1951 the Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra (TASPO) took the music to the Festival of Britain in the United Kingdom - pan music still features in the annual Notting Hill Carnival.

In 1957, Rear Admiral Daniel V. Gallery formed what became the US Navy Steel Band, which toured the world as ambassadors for the U.S. Navy until 1999.

During the 1960s the tuner Anthony Williams developed a pan - the fourths and fifths - that has since become the standard design used today.

Two Americans, George Whitmyre and Harvey J. Price, have secured a US patent for "the process of formation of a Caribbean steelpan using a hydroforming press". This patent is being challenged by the Trinidad and Tobago Legal Affairs Ministry, since many Trinbagonian drum makers have used similar methods for years.

Steelbands in the early years were looked down upon by upper class society, and the panplayers were seen as undesireables. This view has completely reversed to the point where there are many more church steelbands than conventional bands


Woman playing steelpan
Woman playing steelpan

Pans are constructed by pounding the top of the oil drum into a bowl-like shape, known as "sinking" the drum. The drum is tempered over a fire until it is "white hot" and allowed to cool. Then the notes are laid out, shaped, grooved, and tuned with a variety of hammers and other tools. The note's size corresponds to the pitch - the larger the oval, the lower the tone.

The size of the instrument varies from one pan to another. It may have almost all of the "skirt" (the cylindrical part of the oil drum) cut off and around 30 soprano-range notes. It may use the entire drum with only 3 bass notes per pan, in which case one person may play 6 such pans. The length of the skirt generally corresponds to the tessitura (high or low range) of the drum. The pans may either be painted or chromed.

Master pan tuners

Master tuners and makers of pans are as critical to the sound of its music, as is the dexterity and musicianship of the players who eke out their notes. Tuners in the steel band fraternity are deemed crucial to a bandís sound. Consequently, in local cultural realms, pan tuners are revered as masters. This section honours all pan tuners as the mastery of tuning skills is developed over a life time of dedication to the artform. Without pan tuners the evolution of the steelpan would have halted long ago. In the evolution of the steelpan, all tuning masters are held in high honour, respect and admiration by all associated with the history, the industry and the evolution of the instrument.


Trincan performing in Edmonton
Trincan performing in Edmonton

Master tuners:

  • Dr. Ellie Mannette (pioneer) (Official Website | Manette Steel Drums)
  • Rudolph "Hammer" Charles (pioneer) [1]
  • Tomas "Tommy Rey" Reynolds, out of Sandford, Florida
  • Bertie Marshall
  • Roland Harrigin
  • Herman Guppy Brown
  • Lloyd Gay
  • (Cliff Alexis)
  • Denzil "Dimes" Fernandez, inventor of the Bore Pan.
  • Darren Dyke (Official Website | Darren Dyke Steel Drums)

The pan family

A tenor pan from Tobago
A tenor pan from Tobago

There are 11 instruments in the pan family:

  • Lead/Tenor (There are many variations of tenor pans: Spiderweb lead( 4ths and 5ths), 3rds and 5ths, left handed, etc...)
  • Invader lead/Tenor (Variations include C and D invaders)
  • Double tenors
  • Double seconds
  • Double guitars
  • Quadduet (double sconds with extensions)
  • Quadrophonic (four pans)
  • Triple guitars
  • Cellos (Three and four pan variations)
  • Tenor bass (Three and four pan variations)
  • Five bass
  • Six bass
  • Seven bass
  • Nine bass (up to 12 bass)


A list of some of the steelbands of the world:

  • Bermuda Institute Steel Band
  • Carnival Kids Steel Orchestra - Lancaster, NY
  • Desperadoes
  • Exodus
  • Fonclaire
  • Marsicans
  • Oberlin Steel
  • Pan Sonatas
  • Pantonic
  • Phase II Pan Groove
  • Renegades
  • Sesame Flyers
  • Sforzata
  • Skiffle Bunch
  • Starlift
  • Steel Pan Lovers (FIN)
  • The Dave Longfellow Ensemble
  • Trinidad All-Stars
  • Crossfire
  • D'Radoes
  • Delaware Steel
  • Pan United Steel Orchestra
  • Miami University Steel Band (Oxford, Ohio)
  • Fire 'n' Steel (Walker Memorial Academy, Avon Park, Florida)
  • Harmony Music Markers (USA)
  • Croydon Steel Orchestra (UK)
  • Sunshine Steelers (University of Florida Band, Gainesville, FL)
  • CSUN Steel Drum Band (California State University, Northridge)
  • Stardust steel pan Orchestra (and mas) (UK)
  • Ebony Steel Pan Band (UK)
  • Mangrove Steel Orchestra (UK)
  • Nostalgia Steel Band (UK)
  • Glissando Steel Orchestra (UK)
  • Metronomes Steel Band (UK)
  • Eclipse Steel Orchestra - Formerly Haringey Youth Steel Orchestra (UK)
  • Pantasia Steel Orchestra (UK)
  • West Virgina University Steel Ensemble (Morgantown, West Virginia)
  • Sunphonix Steel Orchestra (Miami Gardens, Florida)
  • MAST Academy Steel Orchestra (Miami, Florida)
  • RASPO Steelband UK

Famous pannists, jazz artist, composers and arrangers

  • Randolph Baptiste
  • (Cliff Alexis)
  • Ray Holman
  • Clive Bradley
  • Rudolph Charles
  • Leon "Smooth" Edwards
  • Robert Greenidge
  • Annise "Halfers" Hadeed
  • Gary Gibson
  • Dave Longfellow
  • Ellie Mannette
  • Vernon "Birdie" Mannette
  • Victor "Babu" Samuel
  • Bruce "Fundoo" Bloodman
  • Aubrey "Lacu" Samuel
  • "Bobby" Mohammed
  • Aldon Moore
  • Andy Narell
  • Count Dookoo
  • Monkey Walrus
  • Jeff Narell
  • Ken "Professor" Philmore
  • Yohan Popwell
  • Jit Samaroo
  • Len "Boogsie" Sharpe
  • Liam Teague
  • Jim "Boss" Wharton
  • Tom Miller
  • Mat Britain
  • Joseph "Panhead" Peck
  • Denzil "Belt" Botus
  • Othello Moulineaux
  • Gerald Forsyth
  • Michael Joseph
  • Brian Griffinth
  • Kurt Banfield
  • Aquil Arindell
  • "Gee"
  • Seion Gomez
  • Winston "Mouth-A-Bee" Phillips

The future of pan

The world of steelpan is still thriving. Many ensembles have emerged in recent years which combine the steelpan with other styles of music and instruments not typically found in Caribbean music. As more artists begin including the instrument in various genres of music, it is likely that it will begin to be seen more as a versatile, general-purpose instrument than as a niche or novelty item.

The pan culture is encouraged in Trinidad and Tobago, and is included in parades on Carnival days, Emancipation day, and other celebrations. In addition, Caribbean immigrants to other countries often form community bands and youth bands, resulting in vibrant steelpan scenes in cities like New York, Toronto, Miami, and Washington, DC. Plus, there is a growing steelpan movement on the African continent, spearheaded by such groups as Botswana's Marang Community Junior Secondary Shool Steelpan Ensemble, which was on hand to perform for the state visit of Barbadian Prime Minister Owen Arthur to Gaborone in 2004 (Botswana's Defense Force also has a panside). Schools, colleges, and universities are another setting in which young people are introduced to the steelpan. A growing number of colleges and universities now have steelpan ensembles, such as Oberlin Steel at Oberlin College, where music students and non-majors alike often strike their first notes on the pan. Others participate in elementary, middle, or high school pan ensembles. It seems likely that the number of pan players will continue to grow, both in Caribbean cultures and around the world.

However, since the visit of TASPO to the Festival of Britain (1951) many schools in Britain, particularly those in inner city areas have steelpan sets which often date back to the 70s and 80s when they were promoted and popularised by such institutions as the Inner London Education Authority and the tuner and pan-man Gerald Forsythe. Sadly the predominance of school bands playing hackneyed repertoire on old and ill-tuned instruments combined with a lack of media interest in pan except during the Notting Hill Carnival has lead to the instrument currently being regarded with a certain amount of disdain. Some notable exceptions to this include the work done by arrangers Richard Murphy, Christopher Storeyand Rachel Hayward whose school bands regularly perform on national platforms.

In December, 2006, (Liam Teague) and the (Vermeer Quartet) performed Deborah Teason's five movement "Cadences" at the NIU concert hall, along with Schubert's Quartettsatz in C minor and Beethoven's Quartet in A minor, Op 132. The performance was repeated at Chicago's Symphony Hall. This is, as far as is known, the first classical quintet featuring the tenor pan.

Upcoming pannists, arrangers and composers

  • Keisha Codrington
  • Atiba Williams
  • Mia Gormandy
  • Josanne Francis
  • Vanessa Headley
  • Khion Delas
  • John Wolfe
  • Dave Longfellow
  • Garvin Blake
  • Barry Mannette
  • Chris Ozinga
  • Gregory Boyd
  • Debra Sarjeant
  • Charleston Sarjeant
  • Jim Morford
  • Rahid Ramkissoon
  • Alexander James Forteau
  • Leon "Foster" Thomas
  • Christopher Tanner(MU of Ohio)

See also

  • List of musical genres
  • List of musical instruments
  • List of steelbands
  • Manuel, Peter (2006). Caribbean Currents: Caribbean Music from Rumba to Reggae (2nd edition). Philadelphia: Temple University Press. ISBN 1-59213-463-7.

External links

  • PanTrinbago | The World Governing Body for Steelpan
  • Review of Forty Years in the Steelbands by George Goddard
  • Americans patent pan plan
  • [2]
  • Steel bands London
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