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date: 24 October 2020

Steel bandlocked

  • Shannon Dudley

Extract

An ensemble of tuned idiophones called ‘pans’ (also ‘steel pans’ or ‘steel drums’) that originated in the late 1930s on the island of Trinidad as accompaniment to carnival masquerade. The modern steel band consists of a variety of chromatically tuned instruments made from 55-gallon oildrums and played with rubber-tipped mallets, as well as an ‘engine room’ comprising drum kit, congas, irons (motor vehicle brake drums) and other percussion. Although steel bands are stylistically versatile, the most common steel band conventions of melodic phrasing and rhythmic structure are related to Calypso music.

To make a pan, the bottom of an oildrum is first pounded into a bowl, then shaped and tuned with hammers to form distinct resonating surfaces. Pans vary from the high-pitched ‘tenor’ with a range of approximately two-and-a-half octaves (beginning at c′ or d′) to the low basses, more than two octaves below the tenor. The tenor is made from a single drum, while other pans are designed in sets of two to 12 separate drums, depending on register (lower notes need more surface area). Although certain standard patterns of note placement have gained wide use, many bands in Trinidad and Tobago still use idiosyncratic patterns that date from the 1950s and 60s when intense rivalry discouraged the sharing of tuners (pan makers) between bands....

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