Steelpan (also known as steel pan, steel drum or pan, and sometimes, collectively with other musicians, as a steelband or orchestra) is a musical instrument originating from Trinidad and Tobago. Steelpan musicians are called pannists.
The modern pan is a chromatically pitched percussion instrument made from 55 gallon industrial drums. Drum refers to the steel drum containers from which the pans are made; the steel drum is more correctly called a steel pan or pan as it falls into the idiophone family of instruments, and so is not a drum (which is a membranophone). Steelpans are the only instruments made to play in the Pythagorean musical cycle of fourths and fifths.
The pan is struck using a pair of straight sticks tipped with rubber; the size and type of rubber tip varies according to the class of pan being played. Some musicians use four pansticks, holding two in each hand. This skill and performance have been conclusively shown to have grown out of Trinidad and Tobago’s early 20th-century Carnival percussion groups known as tamboo bamboo. The pan is the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago.
French planters and their slaves immigrated to Trinidad during the French Revolution (1789) from Martinique, including a number of West Africans, and French creoles from Saint Vincent, Grenada, Saint Lucia and Dominica, establishing a local community before Trinidad and Tobago were taken from Spain by the British. The celebration of carnivale had arrived with the French. Slaves, who could not take part in carnival, formed their own parallel celebration called canboulay.
The first instruments developed in the evolution of steelpan were tamboo bamboos, tunable sticks made of bamboo wood. These were hit onto the ground and with other sticks in order to produce sound. Tamboo bamboo bands included percussion of a (gin) bottle and spoon. By the mid-1930s, bits of metal percussion were being used in the tamboo bamboo bands, the first probably being either the automobile brake hub “iron” or the biscuit drum “boom”. The former replaced the gin bottle-and-spoon, and the latter the “bass” bamboo that was pounded on the ground. By the late 1930s their occasional all-steel bands were seen at carnival, and by 1940 it had become the preferred carnival accompaniment of young underprivileged men. The 55-gallon oil drum was used to make steelpans from around 1947. The Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra (TASPO), formed to attend the Festival of Britain in 1951, was the first steelband whose instruments were all made from oil drums. Members of TASPO included Ellie Mannette and Winston “Spree” Simon. Hugh Borde led the National Steel Band of Trinidad & Tobago at the Commonwealt
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