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Template:Trinidadianmusic Steelpan (also known as Pan or Steel drum, and sometimes collectively with the musicians as a Steelband) is a musical instrument and a form of music originating in Trinidad in the West Indies. The steelpan is the only acoustic instrument that was invented in the 20th century.

The pan is a pitched percussion instrument, usually tuned diatonically but sometimes chromatically, made from a 55 gallon drum of the type that stores oil, and is one of the most recently invented musical instruments. Drum refers to the steel drum containers from which the pans are made; the instrument is correctly called a pan (and pans are not--technically--regarded as drums).



In 1939, Winston "Spree" Simon took an old oil drum, and while beating it with a corn cob discovered the first sounds of steelpan music. The first record on a pan band in the press was in a report of the Carnival in the Trinidad Guardian dated Tuesday, February 6, 1940.

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. Ellie Mannette is credited as the first to use the 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.


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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) of the oil drum cut off and around 30 soprano-range notes; or may be use full-length drum with 3 bass notes, 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.

The Pan Family

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A treble pan from Tobago

There are 11 instruments in the pan family:

  • Spiderweb Lead/Tenor
  • Invader Lead/Tenor
  • Double Tenors
  • Double Seconds
  • Quadduet (an extension of Double Tenor or Double Seconds with two Cellos)
  • Quadrophonic
  • Guitars/Gittas (Two, Three and Four Pan Variations)
  • Cellos
  • Tenor Bass
  • Six Bass
  • Nine Bass

Famous Pannists, Composers and Arrangers

  • Clive Bradley
  • Rudolph Charles
  • Robert Greenidge
  • Annise "Halfers" Hadeed
  • Ray Holman
  • Ellie Mannette
  • "Bobby" Mohammed
  • Aldon Moore
  • Andy Narell
  • Ken "Professor" Philmore
  • Jit Samaroo
  • Len "Boogsie" Sharpe
  • Liam Teague
  • Jim "Boss" Wharton

The Future of Pan

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Steel drum musician in England

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. 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, 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.

Upcoming Pannists, Arrangers and Composers

  • Keisha Codrington
  • Atiba Williams
  • Mia Normandie
  • Vanessa Headley
  • Khion Delas

See Also

External links



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