The US Virgin Islands Best Guide

Steel Pan Music and the Pan Dragons of St. John

St. John Carnival Steel Pan

From Paint Tins to Global Phenomenon: The Evolution of Steel Pan

The steel pan is one of the few genuinely novel acoustic instruments invented in the 20th century. Today steel pan groups exist across the globe, however the instruments origin is in Trinidad and Tobago in the early 1930s. In those days rhythm steel drums were usually made from paint tins or biscuit tins. As players noticed size and shape affected sound, tuning the tins began. The establishment of an oil industry in Trinidad meant lots of leftover oil drums. These drums were often cut in two, the parts used as garbage pails. These oil drum halves later replaced the tins; and the drums were worked and refined- hammering concave and convex shapes, tuning the dents and increasing the number of notes.

Tuning the Tins: The Birth of a Novel Acoustic Instrument

Experimentation and trial and error helped to develop refinements and crafting techniques. Steel pans can range from a bass to soprano line and when a group of players are put together in a band the ensemble is comparable to a grand piano in terms of covering a range of sounds. Steel pan music has become synonymous with the Caribbean; and islands whether large or small have local bands. The Virgin Islands is certainly no exception.

Pan Dragons: Breathing Fire into the Musical Heritage of St. John

On little St. John, there is a group of awesome young people that have accepted the challenge of continuing the musical heritage of learning and playing steel pan. The Pan Dragons, as they are called, is a group of dedicated children and teens that practice year-round to learn and perfect their ability to play and perform. The Pan Dragons participate in Carnival parades, Pan-o-Rama, steel pan shows and even weddings!

Baby Pan Dragons: Cultivating the Future of Steel Pan Music

In 1998 the Baby Pan Dragons, a group for younger entry-level players began. Their arranger was Victor Provost a virtuoso pan soloist and later Samuel Lawrence, a long time school pan arranger. As the players matured in ability and age the “Baby” in their title was dropped and members continued in the Pan Dragons. Summer camps for new players bring fresh Baby Pan Dragons to the group. As older members leave because of jobs or attending college, members of the Baby Dragons with pride fill the void. Ages of members range from 5-16 years old. The Pan Dragon repertoire now includes gospel, 40’s pop, light classics and of course the latest calypsos music.

Sustaining the Rhythm: The Lifeline of Donations and Grants for Pan Dragons

The group is funded by private donations and small grants from the Council of the Arts and VI Legislature. Fund raising are planned yearly and proceeds help to pay for cost of instructors, equipment, transportation and to achieve goals such as producing a Pan Dragon CD!
Learn more about the Pan Dragons.

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