When I was on the Corinthians Cruise in Maine a few weeks ago the fleet visited Blue Hill Maine and were treated to a concert by a steel drum band called Flash in the Pans. It seems that the band’s founder and current leader, Carl Chase did some sailing in the Eastern Caribbean back in the early 70s and was entranced by the sound of the steel drum music that he heard. Interestingly, steel drum instruments were first developed in Trinidad in the 40s, shortly after WWII. Who knew?
Legend has it that Carl was given a copy of a book written by Pete Seeger, the folk singer, Steel Drums: How to Make Them and Play Them, published in the mid 50s. Some credit Seeger with popularizing the instrument in the U.S. Amazingly, the book, long out of print, is still available from Amazon.
Don’t worry Brenda, I have enough on my plate right now so I’ll hold off on ordering a copy.
Carl, was inspired to learn how to make these instruments, made one and well, that lead to another and another.
And, here they are, the Flash in The Pans, performing on a beautiful evening in Blue Hill. It seems that they are an institution in those parts and steel drums have become a vital part of the local school band program. While the band was on break, I had a nice chat with Diane, the lady in pink playing to the far right hand side of the frame, not to put too fine a point on it. It was clear from her enthusiasm that she, like many others, get quite a kick out of being in the band. The band has some 40 people who play regularly, ranging in age from teens to well, older folks like me. This short on minute video I took that night will give you an idea of what a great group they are. Don’t they look like they are having fun? The audience was too and there were hundreds outside of the tent dancing with abandon to the beat. What an experience.
Pete Seeger, along with writing a book about how to make steel drums, also did a short film, exploring steel drums and how they were made in Trinidad. It’s worth watching and is an excellent example of what can be accomplished with the simplest tools given enough time and effort.
As a contrast, this clip from the Discovery Channel, explores how these same instruments are now created in high tech factories. There is no end to man’s ability to complicate things I guess.
One way or the other, steel drums sound great. When we were in Cuba last winter we were struck by the resourcefulness of the Cuban people who seemed able to make great things with the minimum of materials available to them. However, while the music scene is quite vibrant in Cuba, we did not see any steel drum bands when we visited.
As we plan our trip to the Eastern Caribbean next winter, I am looking forward to hearing some steel bands. The first time I was exposed to these instruments was when I was in my early teens and our parents took me on a family vacation to Jamaica. I heard “Yellow Bird” played at the resort where we were playing and can still remember the sound after all these years. I also clearly recall the painful blistering sunburn that I got while enjoying the beach but that’s a story for another day.
Perhaps I’ll close with this video of pan player David Hubbard, playing my old time favorite.
Hearing this makes me think of a margarita or at least some sort of drink with a tiny umbrella. Can’t wait.
Who would have thought that a visit to Blue Hill would bring back memories from so long ago. Thinking of all of this makes me even more excited about visiting the Caribbean this coming winter aboard Pandora. Perhaps I’ll even hear Yellow Bird again which would bring things full circle. Yes, that would be nice.
However, CT is so beautiful in the summer, I am happy to be here for a bit longer. Besides, the bathroom isn’t finished yet.
You know how it goes, “happy wife, happy life”. I have to keep reminding myself of that. Yes Brenda, the bathroom will be done soon, I promise… I hope.