Steel pan music has a rich and growing culture despite its relatively short existence. It is widely regarded as the only musical instrument invented in the 20th century. From its early beginnings in Trinidad and Tobago, where instruments were formed from discarded oil drums, and often used by gangs to compete musically as an alternative to violence, the pan has progressed to be a staple of musical innovation in all forms. It is the only musical instrument formed in a cycle of fourths and fifths, rather than chromatically. They are played using a pair of sticks tipped with rubber. Tuning of the pans requires great skill.
Often used as part of jazz or calypso musical groups, the instrument is also played in a full steel pan orchestra. The instrument itself is formed and tuned to portray the various sounds of a traditional orchestra -- with instruments that play soprano notes, alto, tenor and bass. The popularity of the steel pan orchestra has grown worldwide and is now taught in schools around the world. Similar to any musical grouping, steel pan bands are regarded as a wonderful way to teach youth the enjoyment and discipline of music and cooperation.
The world's largest steel band competition, Panorama, takes place in Trinidad during February, as part of their Carnival celebrations. Bands are divided up into small, medium and large groups for the competition -- with the large bands numbering as many as 100+ players. Similar, though smaller, annual competitions are held in countries around the world. The competition "Pan Alive", which is profiled in the film Hearts of Steel, is held annually in Toronto, as a part of the Caribbean Carnival.
Numerous Youtubes and Vimeo clips exist on the internet showing individual players, bands and large steel pan orchestras from around the world. Popular website locations for listening to and learning about steel pan music are www.whensteeltalks.ning.com and www.panonthenet.com
The steel pan instrument is still relatively young in its existence around the world. But its popularity both as a sweet melodic instrument adding to music of all types, and an exciting, energetic 'big sound' for large calypso and soca bands is growing very quickly around the world.