Everyone loves the rhythmic sound of steeldrum (also known as steel pan) bands. During the summer there's not a festival in the entire US, Canada, and UK that does not boast of a steeldrum band included in the music performance lineup. More and more, the sound is used in product branding for anything that is consumed, bought, or used during the summer months. Then the steeldrum sound is used to lure us from the depths of winter and dream of warmer days as advertising reminds us we should start planning for the next summer’s vacation. The steeldrum is no longer the once rare instrument to be heard, it is now incorporated into any music that is intended to make you feel happy, carefree, and joyful - a commercial, a movie, or a wedding reception.
Training classes to teach the steeldrum are held in corner mom and pop music stores, community centers, and in top University music programs. Steeldrum bands are sought for major music performance events and steeldrum student corps are becoming more popular in major cities. Through the progression of the instrument and its deep acceptance into music genres and culture there have been major advancements in the construction of the steeldrum. They used to be constructed by a steeldrum music master craftsman from the area of its origination in Trinidad and Tobago. Now it is still a handmade instrument but the process is more streamlined and some parts are more preciously carried out by the help of computerization.
Recently there has been much attention directed at the dangers of one choosing to make an attempt at constructing their own steeldrum. Authorities are hoping the word can be spread of the dangers, especially to young musicians that are most apt to attempt their own construction. The steeldrum is in fact made from an actual steel drum. Cut, shaped, and tuned by shaping of the drum bottom, it is then finely chromed to produce a steeldrum. There are other things steel drums are used for after their use for containment is no longer a desired purpose. People use them for decorative pieces, animal feeders, and gardening containment.
The danger of constructing the steeldrum stems from what the barrel originally contained. Usually oil filled drums are used, but the same type of drum can be used to hold other flammable products as well. Unfortunately deaths and major injuries have occurred as people unknowingly cut into drums, that while empty, and some even attempted to be cleaned, still held flammable vapors. Welding, grinding, or sawing all have the possibility of igniting fumes. Experts say it only takes one-half ounce of residual material to produce enough vapors that when mixed with a spark or heating source could ignite and explode.
Unfortunately many who are uneducated as to the dangers have been seriously injured or killed. Last week, in Ottawa, Canada a young high school student named Eric Leighton, 18 years of age, died after cutting into a metal steel drum in a shop class. The explosion that occurred also injured four other students and the teacher. The drum that was being cut is thought to have contained peppermint oil. The students were not going to make an instrument but were going to cut the drum and use it to make a barbeque grill. The school board has now put a temporary band on students cutting into any drums in which there could possibly have been a combustible substance.
There are many documented cases similar to the one that occurred in Ottawa, so much so that there are specific guidelines produced by organizations, government authorities, and insurance providers and even steeldrum makers warning of the proper cleaning procedures and precautions that must be taken when repurposing a steel drum.
For those that are looking to find an affordable steeldrum, there are used ones that can be found through secondary markets. There are also practice and learning products that are steeldrum-like and provide an affordable choice to begin playing a steeldrum. No matter, the steeldrum instrument construction should be left to the experts, whether from a studio, factory, or the backyard of a master steeldrum maker.