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The Sound of Science - 'Crafting the Steelpan'

Suzanne Tennant/Suzanne Tennant-Northern Illinoi

Newt: You're listening to The Sound of Science on WNIJ. I'm Newt with NIU STEAM. NIU's CSA steelband hits 50 years old this April, so steelpan player Chad Nichols is going to tell us a little bit about the crafting of the steelpan.

Chad: A steelpan is a percussive instrument that originated in the Caribbean island of Trinidad and Tobago in the late 1930s. Originally, it is made of a 55 gallon oil drum. The process of creating a steelpan involves various steps and the method that I'll be introducing today is what was taught by the late Dr. Clifford Alexis, a steelpan pioneer who worked at the Northern Illinois University steelpan program for 30 years. The first step in creating a steelpan is marking. Multiple concentric circles are drawn along with the shape of notes depending on which steelpan is being made. The next step is called sinking where the metal is shaped into concave shape using various hammers, including sledgehammers and pneumatic hammers. The depth of the steelpan varies with the deepest one going around eight to nine inches in the center. It is crucial to maintain a smooth surface to avoid uneven surface areas. The next step is countersinking, where the space between the notes is shaped. The process separated the physical conditions of the note area from the surrounding surface. After countersinking, the notes are grooved. They are separated from each other by creating a series of indentations using a steel punch and a hammer. Once groove lines are created, they are flattened and the surface of the pan is smoothed. The notes are then shaped from the bottom of the steelpan with a hammer to achieve proper shape and height. The side of the drum is cut to the proper length and is annealed. Annealing is a process in which metal is heated for a certain period and then cooled down slowly. During the building process, the surface areas stretched which can cause the metal to become harder and less ductile. Annealing relaxes the crystal structure of the steel and reduces its hardness.

Newt: This has been The Sound of Science on WNIJ, where you learn something new every day.


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