Panyards of Trinidad
February 21, 2020

When the steel pan was brought on the scene in the late 1930’s, by young men from Port of Spain, St. James and Belmont, bands were formed as a result of the sparked interest in the sound created by the various individuals who were orally noted for birthing the pan. Following in the steps of iron and tamboo bamboo bands, these bands would have a base of operations where experimentation and manipulation of the instrument would occur. The Panyard, usually located under a breadfruit tree (because of the shade and nourishment provided), or in someone’s backyard, was a place where the band members met and practiced. It also facilitated storage of the pans when they were not being used by band members. During these times, the instrument was popularly associated with criminals and delinquency because of the behaviour of some panmen who encouraged reckless and violent conduct stemming from the gang warfare already present in the very communities pan was practiced. The violence can also be attributed to the legacy passed on by “Tamboo Bamboo” bands who, following in the steps of freed Africans using skinned drums, developed the bamboo plant into an instrument and weapon.

As the popularity of the steelpan increased, the instrument gained attention from the middle and upper classes of society. The initial event that sparked this attention, was the debut performance by the Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra in 1951 in London at the British Festival. The warm reaction to the playing of pan, completely shifted the negative perception in Trinidad. Panmen were suddenly regarded with high esteem and praised for their talent and art. Panyards were now considered the official home of the steelpan and acted as an informal agent of cohesion where unity among band members occurred.

Panyards became the foundation in which band members were able to organize and implement a formal structure to the arrangement of the band. The development of the instrument led to different versions being introduced and further elements being added to the band and enjoyed by eager audiences. Performances by the steel pan bands were highly anticipated and well-attended by the public transforming the panyard into training grounds, where the bands would hone their skills. Spurring the bands on further, were the competitions started between the bands in order to see which band was the best. These competitions were usually held during Carnival season, and the panmen were able to showcase their talents and newly acquired skills in pan playing.

To the ‘panman’ or pannist, the ability to learn in the panyard gave the pan player the opportunity to hone his/her skills amongst other pan players who are able to show, share and teach techniques and advice. Many pan players started off not knowing how to read sheet music, thus the art form was taught through the emulation of sounds, tones and pitches or ‘ping-pongs’ as the notes were called during the early stages of the pan. The specific method of teaching pan by those who were musically illiterate was the passing down of a cultural art form singular to pan players and this was shared within panyards.

Panyards became an informal institution where the tradition of pan playing was handed down. Young ones would gather learn to play the pan, to join their friends and enjoy a hobby outside of school. New pan players were able to observe first-hand the different instruments involved, the setting up, dismantling, and maintenance of the instruments. In relation to large bands, the congregation of a large number of steelpan players playing in unison in a panyard evokes a sensational atmosphere that is individual to Trinidad steelpan culture. The atmosphere shared by the band and audience is a special event and the jovial reaction provided by the audience is synonymous with the expressive pan playing.

Panyards are an opportunity for pan players to offer positive contributions to the culture and society of Trinidad. They are able to express themselves through the steelpan and focus on this activity. The panyards not only provide spaces for self-expression but also are a communal space for all. Only during Carnival season, can one see citizens from various classes within Trinidad gather along Charlotte Street or Duke Street to see the Steelpan Bands perform. The mass cohesion that occurs within the panyards is expressive of the cultural significance steelpan has in Trinidad society.  

During the Carnival season, anyone can drive through Port of Spain, and distantly hear the sound of pan notes gliding on the wind. Take a walk down Tragarete Road on any given night and the Invaders, originally called, The Oval Boys, can be seen practicing their craft till the early morning opposite the Queen’s Park Oval, in order to place in the popular Panorama competition, where steelpan bands from all over Trinidad compete. Drive down to Duke Street, where All Stars is located and not too far away, you can find The Renegades on Charlotte Street. The well-known Exodus band, always fills the town of Tunapuna with their early morning and late night practices in their panyard located along the Eastern Main Road. Take a drive to visit the Fonclaire Steel Orchestra located on Dottin Street, San Fernando, known for their rendition of Lord Kitchener’s song, “Pan Here to Stay”.

Panyards in current times represent a festive place where eager patrons can easily see and listen to their favourite bands practice and perform. Panyards have become culturally significant in Trinidad, representative of the bands which occupy it and evoke enormous pride from supporters as they go to see their favourite band play.


Written By
Maya Doyle


Text Reference:  

Smith, Angela. Steel Drums and SteelBands, A History. Plymouth: The Scarecrow Press Inc., 2012. Research Paper – The Panyard as a Model Space for Training – Dr Jeannine Remy – 2ndCSC 2006 – UWI Trinidad,

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