The Steelbands of TT
ARCHIVE COPY - 2005
[x] Square brackets delineate and number the end of each page for reference purposes; or enclose [corrections].
World Steelbands 2005Note: Steelbands may be of any size; an ensemble to Panorama max
Where 'local cultural name' = 'lcn':
Master Pan Tuner = (lcn + use) = A person who can make and tune a pan; definite.
Pan Tuner(s) (lcn + more use) ~= Pan maker (lcn + use) = A person who can make and tune a pan. It is specific that the 'tuner' can do both functions; but a 'maker' may not necessarily have the skill to 'tune'.
Tune (lcn + use) = Blend (lcn + use) = The ability to bring a pan 'shell' to the correct pitch expected of the fundamental frequency = (0,0) mode; + the correct pitch expected of the set of the 1st octave harmonics = (1,0) (0,1) (1,1) modes; + the correct pitch expected of the set of the 2nd octave harmonics = (2,0) (2,1) (0,2) (1,2) (2,2) modes; the actual ratios of the relations of the harmonics used, in beyond the scope of this document.
The hammer (lcn + use) = The
knowledge = (lcn + use)= In the context of steelpan;
The ability of a person to make and tune a pan: are
cultural iconoclastic phrases; carry a weighting of respect,
coloured with a slight degree of awe, for anyone thus talented.
Pan(s) (lcn +
use)(plural) = Steel drum(s) (lcn) = Steeldrum(s)
(lcn) = Steel Pan(s) (lcn) = Steelpan(s)
(lcn + use):
'Class' and 'Type' of Pan
Note: A full sub 'type'
classification is beyond the scope of this document; but
may be used here only to illustrate a point. e.g. A Tenor 'class'
pan may fall into sub 'type' = A, C, D or Low C; each with a
slightly different note pattern.
The Pan instruments by 'Class'
It is the variation in 'style'
of the sub 'type' applied to the generic 'class' of pan, as
adopted by different pan makers or 'pan tuners' as they are
called, that has made the standardisation of the pan 'type' so
Suffice is to say that, over
time, the present 'pan tuners' have adopted a 'style' for each
generic 'type' that varies from about standard for the high
register tenor pan 'class'; very near standard in the seconds
'class', low standard in the middle register of the cello
'class', near standard in the 'high' bass 'class'; to mixed
standard in the low register of the bass 'class', where only the
6 and 9 bass 'types' are near standard.
Pan stick(s) (lcn + use) = mallet: A pan stick is used to play a pan; usually two sticks are used, one in each hand; For the higher pan voices only, skilled players may use 3 or 4 pan sticks. Pan sticks are made of slim round shafts of wood, polymer or aluminium tubing. Over the tip of the stick is placed a 'rubber'; to cushion the shock of strike, and to impart the correct level of impulse energy to resonate the pan note, without over-stressing or damaging it. The sticks very in length and weight, as does the tip 'rubber' thickness, matched to the voice of the pan to be played; the lower the voice, the larger the stick. All bass range stick 'rubber' is different; in that a specific type of synthetic 'spongy toy ball' is used; half a ball, split down the for the Tenor/High bass; and a full [ball used for the Low bass pans]. Pan sticks may be decorated.
Pan stand(s) (lcn + use) = Single instrument stands that accommodate each of all the 1 to 4 drum instrument voices; or single drums in the Low Bass range.
Pan rack(s) (lcn + use) = Stand that accommodates a collection of instruments, all the same or in mixed instrument sets; and are usually on small wheels. The T, DT, DS and Guitar pans may be mixed; the 3-C's, 4-C's, in 2 or 3 unmixed instrument sets; the T-Bass and H-Bass in sets of 2; and the 6,7,9,10,12-Bass in single-rack sets; a rack may have a fixed or removable canopy.
Steel Band (lcn) = Steelband
(lcn + use) = A group of players using steelpan instruments. Does
not include a Soloist pan player; but ranges to include an
ensemble where the median or majority of players use steelpans;
with one or more players on a standard percussive instruments
like a drum or drum-set, or the Trinidad percussive instrument
'Iron'. As the number of players increases, and when the point is
reached so that most of the available 'class' range of pans are
represented, but not necessarily including some of the
overlapping instruments (eg Quadrophonic, tenor/High bass, or all 
of the 2/3/4-Cello range), the status of a full steelband is
reached. This and a larger size steelband, can be defined as a
Steel Orchestra (lcn + use).
Arranger(s) (use; a local definition) = A person responsible for 'giving' the 'music' to the pan players; this person may or may not have any accredited musical training; this person will have the ability to understand the functions of all the pan voices; and the range of notes on each pan voice; and above all understand the idiom of the music to be performed and how to 'spread' the music in correct orchestration onto all the pan voices, giving consideration to their percussive nature; and to include other standard percussive instruments in this treatment; and to have and hold full authority over the players in this activity; and to have the ability to bring playing into full unison from the start to the end in performance of the 'music'; additional ability of being able to change the music to suite the abilities of any specific player(s) an advantage; the ability to compose the music is expected; the ability to read and/or write music is an advantage; to possess accreditation as a conductor an advantage; an ability to play one pan, rising to any pan, is a rising advantage; the ability to 'drill' the band an advantage.
Driller(s) (lcn + use) to drill (verb) = A person who practices the band; will have the ability to understand the functions of all the pan voices; have and hold full authority over the players in this activity; and to have the ability to bring playing into full unison from the start to the end in performance of the 'music'; understands the idiom of the music to be performed; applies to the act of fine-tuning the product of the bands 'music', in parts or as a whole; this person may or may not have any accredited musical training; the ability to read and/or write music is an advantage; to possess accreditation as a conductor an advantage; an ability to play one pan, rising to any pan, is a rising advantage;
Pan yard(s) (lcn + use) = panyard(s) (lcn + use) = The original name stems from the times of the early groups of the early 1940's, and refers to the location where the 'pans' were crafted and fired in the 'yard'; where the pans were tuned, and where the group gathered to practice. In those days, a pan making area and a practice area were synonymous. Today few panyards have pans made in their yard (there is little specific data available to quantify this; but from experience it is less than a 25%), as most pan makers have moved to industrial type units or separate yards for their purposes. The panyards per say have become the homes and seats of the institutions of the steelbands, and are used mainly for pan storage, music practice and recreation; where some of which may be available for commercial hire, for outside group functions.
Management of Steelband = Beyond of the scope of this document.
Steelband Protocol = Beyond of the scope of this document.
Steelband Constitution = Beyond of the scope of this document.
Steelband Code of Conduct = Beyond of the scope of this document.
Steelband Membership = Beyond of the scope of this document.
Steelband Functions = Beyond of the scope of this document. 
Trinidad and Tobago is
internationally recognised and accepted as the birthplace of the
steeldrum (pan) musical instruments, whose origins come from a
grassroots society. As these instruments were
developed, and their use evolved into the art-form of the
steelband; the role and social values of the steelband society
itself has changed over the intervening decades since it's
inception in the early 1940s. Today the instrument is recognized
as the National instrument of Trinidad and Tobago; and is known
throughout the world.
The developmental stage of pan lies between the mid 1930's to the late 1950's. It is that
during this time that, the practice of playing rhythmic patterns
on basically wooden instruments changed; to the practice of
playing rhythmic patterns on iron and steel instruments and
changed again; to the practice of playing rhythmic music patterns
on crude iron and steel musical instruments. It is this evolution
of all these phases [that] took place by the end of the 1950's.
The steeldrums, or steelpans as
they became named in the culture, were created on the island of
Trinidad around the time of the great World War, WWII. The
cultural roots of the instrument can be traced back to West
Africa. As slaves were brought over in the late 1500's, first by
the Spanish, and then by the French in the late 1700's, African
drumming and music provided to them their only link to their
homeland. Stripped as they were of their family ties and
languages, the slaves found music as a refuge. When the British
took control of the island in 1797, the social divide between the
upper classes and the slave population was elevated; the Spanish
having been less prejudice (CR Ottley). The British being a more
class oriented society, and having to control a new wave of
immigration to Trinidad, were more prone to social paranoia and
became fearful of secret messages being sent through African
drumming, thus undermining order a legacy of thought
promulgated by their experiences of explorations in Africa. In
1838, when emancipation occurred in Trinidad, the French
tradition of Mardi Gras was replaced with Canboulay. The ruling
classes denounced the festivities.
The Transition to Pan and its early Development phase
There are many sagas about who
was the first person to switch from bamboo to metal, and the
inevitable queries about who was the first to invent the
steeldrum. The fact remains that it was the creation of many of
the unprivileged youths, seeking a louder instrument that could
replace the recently banned tamboo bamboo bands around 1937
(Blake, 51). The movement from bamboo to metal containers was
basically accidental. One such famous band that underwent this
transition was called the Calvary Tamboo Bamboo Band from
Newtown. Once they discarded their bamboo they changed their name
to the Alexander Ragtime Band. Seeking a replacement for broken
or splintering bamboo, metal containers were probably picked up
along a Carnival parade route to keep the rhythm going. Metal
beating was very popular in the 1930s; it was louder and more
The presence of the American
soldiers on the island started in 1941 during WWII, strengthened
an influence, already present, but had been low key in the north
or Trinidad, but high in the south; where American capital was
already since 1902 building an oil industry; with a running
refinery and oil fields to develop and exploit. The soldiers
however brought a different face of America to these shores.
Stationed at Chaguaramas, their forces radio station, and groups
of off duty sailors, began having a strong influence on the
north, particularly in Port of Spain. Their radio aired popular
American songs, and the cinemas played the latest Hollywood
shows; marines had nothing better to spend their money on than
rum, parties and girls. This promoted prostitution and gambling;
and the underground economy exploded. This was great for the
girls, but trouble for the young men of Trinidad, as they had few
resources to compete. However in typical copy-cat fashion, they
adopted the saga boy attitudes to compensate; and used Sailor Mas
as a tease.
The word 'acceptance' is warm;
like the greeting of a well known friend, who will stay a moment
to 'mind' the children, while you go out to get the newspapers.
Your friend is family, and has become trusted in the
conversations of existence as you tread forward along the path of
life. Your friend is 'accepted'; but it took some time before
that was so. Pan would have to associate with the people for some
4 decades hence to achieve this.
Pan began to wonder off these
shores when in New York ...some of the members of the Casablanca
provided a rare treat for watchers of the parade on West
Indian day in the late summer of 1947, playing with the
unique steel band instruments. (CE Smith www-6)
The Golden Era of the steelbands
may be roughly categorised at to fall between the late 1950s to
the early 1970s; it was the time that they made the most progress
in establishing all aspects of their art-form, and the time
between which they made the strongest impact for their cultural
'Tony' Williams obsession with
the tonal quality of pan, would lead him to eventually define the
standard for the 'style' of the tenor class pans. It began with
North Stars reputation in the early 1960's of having Stage Side
pans of high quality, and Road pans of less quality; an unusual
extravagance; but one that set them aside in the competitive
arena (Blake). He is reputed to have made, probably in the mid
1960's, one of the first pans hand crafted directly from sheet
metal. (Blake, 169) The next time this idea was used, and in
quantity, was some 35 years later by 2 foreign pan manufacturer,
one in Switzerland, PANArt AG (2000) and the other in the USA,
Panyard Inc (2002). The path to a standard came first with his
invention of the efficient note 'spiderweb' pan, a tenor pan
where between the 'grooves' of the web, some 36 notes were
placed. It worked, but remained very difficult to tune. With some
rudimentary mathematics in ratios, and mindful to the art of
tuning, Williams then set the standard of the 4ths and 5ths
interval in 'style' for the tenor that remains with us today. We
should respectfully call him our Archimedes of pan.
In the 1970's the role and
function of the steelband in T&T society declined. It was no
longer needed for live entertainment, or year-round functions; it
was being replaced by the technical advances of the music
industry; low cost, high power, sound systems the advent
of the DJ's. These systems, through simplicity, cost and shear
range of entertainment offered, began to displace the steelbands
from their cultural niches, both on and off the streets.
The late 1970s to the end of the
1980s issued in the Panorama Syndrome stage; the focus was on
getting to the Mecca of pan (The Grand Stand, QPS, PoS) and to
In 1988 (1st) the first World
Steelband Music Festival was held in Trinidad, ending on the 5th
November. Steelbands from (British) Guyana and Venezuela were
invited; and competitions in the Conventional steelband and
Soloists categories entertained. Only 1 of the 2 Guyanaese bands
appeared, BIDCO Invaders, and the entrant from Venezuela did not
make it (G Maxime). Curiously, this is not recognised as a World
event by Pan Trinbago.
In 1990 the Pan Parang
competition initiated for Single Pan Steelbands (SPB).
In 2000 the Pan in the 21st
Century [Conv] + Pan Down Memory Lane (SPB) concerts are changed
into respective steelband competitions.
The ICTSC 2000 - Simultaneous
with the WSMF2000, and taking advantage of the presence of
possible foreign interests from the festival, was the first
International Conference on the Science and Technology of the
Steelpan (ICSTS). It was held in Port of Spain, Trinidad, 16th to
18th October 2000. It was jointly sponsored by Pan Trinbago and
The National Institute for Higher Education Research Science and
Technology (NIHERST) functioning through the University of the
West Indies (UWI), St Augustine, Trinidad. Convened by Dr Anthony
Achong of the Department of Physics, UWI-TT; it was well attended
and attracted delegate speakers from the USA and Switzerland.
Music Literacy on the steelpan in Trinidad and Tobago
Are we poisoning a culture with
music notation? Is the definition of a musician someone who can
read music? Are we inhibiting creativity by pushing musicians
onto the note reading band-wagon? Are we destroying a folk art?
Should we leave it to the ethnomusicologists to transcribe the
With respect to the life and longevity of the piece being rendered; there are certainly differences between the grassroots and the academic methods.
The academic approach keeps the tune for posterity, subject only to how 'well' and 'detailed' are the 'notes' that have been scribed on the score; so that a far future arranger may interpret the score to a parallel degree.
The grassroots approach is for more fragile as; even in its creation phases, it is subject to loss. In that at the next time of practice; should the arranger fail to remember what was 'put down'; subject to there being sufficient players, from all voices, who also remember what was 'put down' in the short term. As players move away from the band, their particular instrument voice may be lost. If over a larger span of time the tune is not practiced; or not passed on to new players, it gets lost. One factor that may 'lessen' the loss, is if an audio recording had been made and kept of the piece. But to unscramble this accurately, in some future time, again is subject to misinterpretation and noise loss.
There are some who feel a balance of both music writing, and rote learning, should be maintained. People like Ray Holman argue that when pan is in the classroom both methods, rote and reading, should be used as methods of teaching. He also advocates that people forget how to listen and develop their aural skills when they solely rely on their eyes to read the music.
What is undeniable at this time however is that Trinidad and Tobago are in this day witnessing two schools of arrangers:
In 2005 the company YARA
Trinidad Ltd., directed by Mark Loquan, has set up a music
literacy scholarship fund for talented students who are pursuing
a degree in music at UWI's Centre for Creative and Festival Arts
(CCFA). As part of the course curriculum in music, students must
take pedagogical courses designed to survey and analyse music
specifically written for the steelpan. As more students develop
the skills to notate music, music that was once lost or only
committed to recordings, will now be archived for future use.
This is the positive side of music literacy. 
At the turn of the 21st Century,
the focus on steelpan education in Trinidad and Tobago is higher
than in any previous era. Today the venue for creating music is
not just in the panyard anymore. Music is taught in Primary
Schools, Secondary Schools, Pan Schools, and at the University.
Besides at first as seen in
ensemble, heard and perceived by foreigners as the stereotyped
exotic tourist entertainment; the steelband has now evolved
to be seen to have many uses and functions abroad; ranging from
entertainment to education. Its value has risen to that of an
educational tool. It is used in ensemble, for inner city youths
to keep them active and 'off the streets'.
1 A colloquial term that means A foreign country or From Away 
The above text is known to be
full of information holes, omissions and even some inaccuracies.
However, despite these short comings, it represents a work in
progress, and foremost, a document in hand; a document not
available before. It simply represents the beginning of a
compendium of pan.
|RADS_v04_edit2.doc :: Overview presented at the SISIAE UWI by Dr J Remy - 28th June 2005
|© 2005: email@example.com - 20050702 - 1m20071228 - 2m20140615
Historic Update: 10 July 2005; Last Update: 29 June 2014 01:20:00 TT
Processed by: Jeremy G de Barry