From Trinidad
To Brooklyn

    I'm the girl in the colorful costume with the huge headdress.   I was born in Trinidad, but now I live in New York City.  I am ten years old.  I performed at the West Indian Carnival in Brooklyn, New York in the Labor Day Parade.  I have been in the parades since I was five years old.  We start to prepare for the parade in June and we work as partners in teams all summer.  My costume was made by a professional designer.  It cost a lot, $45, but it was worth it.
    In Trinidad we call these celebrations a mas.  Mas is short for masquerading in costumes.  The costume I wear is very big but it's not heavy on my back because it is mostly made of feathers.  When the breezy wind hits you, you must hold on to it!  When I have that costume on I feel so good because I get to express all of my dancing feelings.  When I go up on stage for competition I feel excited and nervous.  Sometimes when I see all of those people looking at me I feel like I want to faint or run off the stage.  But when the music plays I feel happy.
     In Trinidad we have our own special musical instrument which we call pan.   A pan is a steel drum.  You can play any kind of music on it, not just calypso or soca, and it will sound nice and smooth.  I play pan myself and my family has our own band.  I play the tenor and the bass.  My sister plays the tenor, and my father plays the bass and the double tenor. Pans are very expensive.  They cost $100 to $1000.  My father buys them here and in Trinidad.

       I have been learning about the history of the steel drum.  In World War II the United States Navy sent ships to Trinidad to get fuel.  The oil was kept in these big steel drums and after the war was over in 1945 there were a lot of these empty drums just left on the island.  People started to bang on them and play music just for fun.  But then a man named Winston "Spree" Simon got the idea of making real musical notes on the head of the drum.  Even today the notes are hammered into the steel the same way.
      First the metal is heated over a fire. Then the whole head is sunk by banging it down with a heavy hammer.  After that you have to go under the head and bang up the notes by hitting the metal from below until it is raised up into round bumps.  Then you must make each bump just the right size and shape to sound like a note of music when you play on it.  You need to test the sound with a musical tuner like a tuning fork or a keyboard and keep changing the bumps by heating the metal and hitting it with the hammer until it is just right.  It takes a long time and a lot of work to tune a pan and that is why they are so expensive.

      Now the steel drum is played all over the world.  Every year in Trinidad there is a special contest called Panorama.   Here in Brooklyn my family will compete to try to win airplane tickets for our band to go to Panorama.  There are hundreds of bands there and it is a real honor to win it.
      My family has been invited to play at our school.  We love to perform and we are happy when people can share our culture.  If you would like to learn more about it you can visit these web sites.

Carnival In Trinidad

How Steel Drums Are Made

Grade 5
Mr. Greenberg, Teacher
Public School 241
976 President Street
Brooklyn, New York 11225