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STEEL DRUM HISTORY (article first published : 2002-06-10)

Interesting information gleaned from the Durban-based Steel Band Foundation notes that the steel drum or “pan” was invented by accident on the Caribbean island of Trinidad during the 1940’s.

A man named Winston “Spree” Simon was playing a biscuit tin as a bass drum in a percussion group. As he beat it with a stick, the end of the tin gradually dented into a bowl and the pitch of the drum sharpened. To try and restore the original pitch of the tune, he picked up a rock and stamped the end out, reasoning that if it could be beaten flat again it would go back to its original bass note.

Needless to say, the end of the tin did not return to its original flat state, but dented out into a few bumps! More importantly each bump made a different note when struck. Spree discovered that he could play Mary Had a Little Lamb, the first tune played on the first steel drum!

The idea was rapidly developed until the instrument became fully chromatic and sometime during the late 1940’s the 44-gallon oil drum became the standard starting point for making steel drums. In 1991 the steel drum was officially recognized as the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago.

More information on the Steel Drum Foundation from Bryan on 083 777-6762 or Dobri on 083 777-6743.




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