Oil industry led to steel drum
|by Dick Conklin L'Attitudes contributor
Posted-Monday, July 9, 2007 2:54 PM EDT
Few will argue that the sound of a steel drum makes perfect background music for many Florida Keys events, such as the recent inaugural Delta flight to Marathon Airport. If you think of the Keys as an extension of the Caribbean islands, you would expect to find steel drum players and bands just about everywhere.
But few musicians know how to play the unusual instrument, much less how to make one. Fortunately we do have a local, authentic steel drum player who learned his trade on the island where it all began. Sir Cedrick Luces was born on the island of Trinidad, where the steel drum, or pan, was invented in the late 1930s and later became the official musical instrument of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.
Many fans are surprised to learn that the instrument is such a relatively recent invention. Luces grew up during the island's early steel pan era, and as a teenager he toured with Trinidad's famous Belmont Steel Band. In his 20s, he came to the United States and played with a legendary jazz pan player, Othello Mollinex. He learned how to create impromptu melodies in his head and transform them into steel drum music. He became more versatile, adapting his playing techniques to blend jazz, calypso, and reggae into a smooth, original sound.
“Then someone made a drum top with four notes instead of two. That led to eight, then 16, and so on. The first steel drums were convex in shape, bending outward. Later they took on a concave shape, making them easier to play.”
In the 1930s, the instrument evolved into a full scale of notes, and grew in popularity.
But early on, the new instrument acquired a negative stigma.
“The steel drum was considered a poor man's piano, played by street performers,” he recalled. “My aunt called it the devil's music. When I brought one home she told me to ‘get it out of my house!' I got a whipping for that!”
Today the steel drum's negative connotation is long gone. There is even a graduate program at West Virginia University led by artist-in-residence Ellie Mannette, who is known as the principal innovator and designer of the modern steel drum. His steel band instruments are on display at the Smithsonian and Metropolitan museums. At WVU, Manette coordinates the steel band studies, which teach all aspects of the steel drum art form. More than a dozen other schools, including the University of Florida, have incorporated the steel drum into their music programs.
The steel drum is the only new family of acoustic instruments to have been invented in the past 100 years. It consists of a circular, steel playing surface divided into smaller sections or notes, each of which is acoustically isolated and tuned to a different pitch. The instrument is played with a pair of rubber-tipped mallets, or sticks. Musicians skilled in the art of playing the steel pan are called pannists.
Luces brought his steel drums to the Keys in 1990 and quickly got hired to play at the Holiday Isle and Hawk's Cay resorts, where he still plays today.
In 1991, he won Miami's Calypso King award with his original composition “If You Drink My Wine.” That hit led to an album, “Ready To Party,” which combines some of his own creations with other reggae and calypso hits. Since then, he has produced and recorded several CDs: “Steel Drum Concerts, Vol. 1 and 2,” “The Best of Sir Cedrick,” “Welcome to the Florida Keys,” and “Steel Band Music: Old-Time Melodies.” He records multiple tracks to sound like a full steel drum band.
Luces has played his steel drums all over the east coast, the Caribbean, and South America. He tirelessly promotes steel drum music through special performances at festivals and shows throughout South Florida and plays for many private events, such as the Greater Marathon Chamber of Commerce's Business After Hours and Christmas parties. Yes, he also does tropical steel-drum weddings.
He loves to educate audiences on the versatility and beauty of the steel drum, such as in appearances at the Bass Art Museum, where he was featured on public TV (PBS) programs showcasing classical steel-drum music. He has shared his love of Caribbean music with students at the Performing Arts Continuing Education (PACE) school for the past 10 years. He donated professional sets of steel drums to the Gerald Adams Elementary School in Key West and the Key Largo Elementary School for their respective music programs.
As Luces' latest CD illustrates, his song list has expanded far beyond the standard steel drum songs that others typically play. Now he adapts familiar favorites to the sound and style of the steel drum.
“I play songs that most Americans know,” he said. “Depending on the venue and event, I can do classics like ‘Twilight Time,' ‘Stand by Me,' or ‘You're Always On My Mind.' I even play ‘Knights in White Satin.'”
Sir Cedrick Luces can be found on his Web site, www .sircedrick.com, or via e-mail at email@example.com. Sir Cedrick Productions can also be reached at 247-9446.
Dick Conklin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you go:
- Who: Sir Cedrick and his steel drums.
- Where: Hawk's Cay, Cantina Restaurant, out on the dock.
- When: Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, noon to 4 p.m.
For Tapes, CDs, Videos,
and tropical weddings contact;
Sir Cedrick Productions
P.O. Box 1672
ISLAMORADA, FL. 33036