Steel Drums

Purchased in Trinidad, 1957 (Right), and in Puerto Rico, 1995 (Left)

From Graciela's Notes

Steel Drum (blue)- This instrument is typical of some of the islands of the Caribbean and is used as the basic instrument to accompany dancers and singers. It is the sound of the Calypso in the islands of Trinidad, Jamaica, Barbados and a number of other islands. The drums are made from all sizes of steel (oil) drums and are usually carried around the neck. The full-sized one are carried on a platform with wheels when they are used in parades and put on a similar platform when used to play at other functions where they don’t have to be carried. The top of the drum is "punched up" to create the notes (tones) the musicians desire. The oil drums are cut to different heights to create higher or lower tones. They also use oil drums s that are smaller in circumference to get the higher sounds and where more notes can be "punched up". The sound is made by striking the "puffed" areas on the drum surface with two wooden mallets. It has a very unique sound, sort of like a xylophone, but much more hollow and mellow - quite pleasing and different from other sounds you’d hear on instruments that are in the same family. I bought this first steel drum when I spent several days in the island of Trinidad during their famous Carnival - held just before Lent. I was living in Venezuela at the time. Thoroughly enjoyed doing the calypso, during those days, to the music of Steel Drums. It was purchased in February 1957.

This second drum is just like the one described above. However, this one was purchased several years - some thirty-five years later - on a trip to Puerto Rico. By this time many more of the islands used it in their music as the popularity of the calypso spread to the other islands of the Caribbean. In fact, there are now steel drum bands in the United States that are acoustical - they do have a rather different sound. I have a CD of an acoustical steel drum concert accompanied by the London Symphony Orchestra. So, its popularity has become widely known and used to play a variety of music not just calypso. This steel drum was purchased in the island of San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1995 - a gift from Ruth Distin.

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