chapter
8 Pages

Introduction

The steel pan is a defi nite-pitch, acoustic, percussion instrument, indigenous to Trinidad and Tobago, consisting of a circular playing surface made of steel stretched to a concave shape and attached to a hollow, cylindrical resonator called a ‘skirt’. This surface is divided into a number of isolated convex sections called ‘notes’, which are harmonically tuned. The instrument is usually played with hand-held, rubber-tipped, non-sonorous mallets called ‘sticks’. 1

In 1992, approximately 60 years after the ‘evolution’ of the steel pan began, it was declared the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago. The early steel pan pioneers defi ed existing thought that steel membranes were useless for melodic instruments and only suitable for percussive instruments such as gongs and cymbals. 2 The steel pan’s initial appearance on the streets of Port of Spain, Trinidad, in the 1930s, was the beginning of a process by which an ‘assortment of metal containers’ was transformed into ‘an orchestra of highprecision instruments with bell-like tones’. 3 The steel pan is ‘one representation of the whole creative process by which Trinidadians [and Tobagonians] have defi ned themselves as a people’. 4 Port of Spain, Trinidad is where the process of

1 See ‘Strategic Plan for Pan’, A Report Commissioned by the Pan Trinbago Foundation Board, PanTrinbago Inc., (Pan Trinbago) 2005, p.4. (Pan Trinbago is the governing body for steelbands in Trinidad and Tobago). In this book, references will be made to the steel pan, the steelband, and the steelband movement. The steel pan can refer to a single instrument in the range of instruments from bass to tenor. The steelband refers to a collection of instruments in the range of instruments, and the steelband movement is a term used to describe the origination and development of the steel pan, and encompasses the social, political and cultural factors which impacted on the instrument’s growth.