Playing "the pan" in a West Indian Steel band is an art that
was initiated by slaves in Trinidad over two centuries ago, but is
now known all over the world.
The pan, in many cases is actually more than one steel drum
played by one person in the band, each drum having a limited
number of notes arranged in traditional patterns. The art of
playing steel pans has been passed on from masters to students
by example, requiring many hours of practice.
Being a "folk art", it did not develop a system of writing
musical pieces, but relied mostly on memorization.
Not any more!
In Toronto, Canada, Tommy Crichlow,
one of the most respected Trinidadian pan masters who produces
his own orchestral arrangements and directs steel bands, has
recently adopted a music notation for steel drums developed by a
computer scientist from Ontario: Giuseppe Augusto Gori. This allows him
to print readable sheets of music to his students who can
immediately practice and play without having to "know music".
Tommy has reduced the time required to prepare a steel band
performance from months to days!
Giuseppe was born In Arezzo, Italy, the town where Guido Monaco
was born. "Guido d'Arezzo" was the monk who invented the
classical music notation, for transcribing Gregorian chants,
almost a thousand years ago.
After immigrating to Canada, while working at IBM, Giuseppe
developed his idea of "readable music" - a "music language" with
an extremely reduced set of symbols, but the same "quantity of
information". He then published music books for children to
easily learn how to play piano just knowing the A, B, C.
Giuseppe married a Trinidadian girl. Years later the
connection with Tommy was made by
Vince Maraj, a former economist at the Trinidad and Tobago
ministry of finance and a competent musician in his own right.
was a founding
member of the group “Mother Hubbard” which had a hit record
“Freedom” in Trinidad and Tobago in the early
1970s. He played professionally both in Trinidad
and Tobago and Canada. He served as a president of
the University of the West Indies (Trinidad and Tobago campus)
music unit for two years.
While working with
was exposed to the “readable music”
notation and thought that it would be a perfect fit for
steel bands. He arranged a meeting between Giuseppe
and that set a train in motion!
Steel band players are a fertile ground
for "readable music": they do not want to invest years
in learning the classic music notation, but "have rhythm in
timing is the key concept of "readable music". Giuseppe says:
read music you need to know two things: what notes to play and
when to play them. The 'readable music' notation relies on
positional time. The names of the notes are shown as they need
to be played, scrolling down vertically on paper or on a screen.
It is particularly intuitive for any person with an innate
'sense of timing'."
And that's how a match between a need and idea was made.
See the following video for the history of Steel bands:
See the following video for the more recent history (post-1940):
Using oil drums for Steel Bands in Trinidad:
The Defence Force Steel Orchestra of Trinidad and Tobago,
playing in Bremen (Germany) in 2002:
Trinidad Panorama 2013: