We can all learn from the Leopards
Sept. 28, 2015
by Ivan Raconteur

After a long day in the office, I was catching up on Facebook when I came across a link to a video of kids playing musical instruments.

Kids are foreign to me. Perhaps that makes what happened next even more remarkable.

Being in no particular hurry, I went ahead and clicked on the link.

Much to my surprise, I was mesmerized. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing or hearing. It looked like a room full of ordinary kids, but when they started to play, they blew the house down.

These fresh-faced kids were blasting out Led Zeppelin tunes like a bunch of wily veterans. I quickly threw on my headphones so I could crank up the volume without offending the neighbors.

The group is called the Louisville Leopard Percussionists.

I couldn’t believe it was kids playing this stuff. The level of precision and coordination was phenomenal. Their patience and discipline astonished me.

I’ve listened to a lot of children’s performances over the years, including some in which I was among the perpetrators. Generally these have been more a matter of enduring a minor form of torture than entertainment.

As I watched the video, it shocked me that I was actually having fun. I watched it again.

It was as if I had fallen down a rabbit hole into some alternate world in which a bunch of old hipsters were inhabiting children’s bodies.

Their repertoire is impressive, ranging from old school rock and roll songs by Zeppelin and Ozzy Osbourne, to contemporary hits by Katy Perry, Pink, and Bruno Mars. They played Chick Corea, Benny Goodman, Hendrix, James Brown, and the White Stripes.

They played rock, pop, jazz, blues, and more.

As I watched these kids, I was fascinated at their level of concentration. They’d clearly spent many hours of hard work preparing for their performances.

They were also having fun. I could see the satisfaction in their faces.

I went to YouTube and watched every Louisville Leopard video I could find.

I had a ball.

Bizarre though it may seem, I spent the rest of the evening rocking out to some excellent music with a bunch of kids.

I defy anyone to watch one of their videos without getting a little bit dancy.

I had put in a long week before I discovered these kids, and after watching the videos, I was energized rather than tired.

A couple of observations emerged as a result of this experience.

Music selection is critical.

I was forced to sing in school when I was a kid, and later, I played bass in the orchestra and band. None of the material we played inspired me.

Had we been given the kind of material these kids were playing, things may have been very different.

Another observation is that there must be some incredibly creative and dedicated people behind this program.

I checked out the group’s website, www.louisvilleleopardpercussionists.com.

I learned the Louisville Leopard Percussionists are a performing ensemble comprised of more than 60 student musicians ages seven to 14, who reside in 26 different ZIP codes and attend 48 different schools in and around Louisville, KY.

Award-winning elementary school teacher Diane Downs started her first percussion ensemble, The Fabulous Leopard Percussionists, in 1993 after she found some old instruments in a storage closet in the school where she taught.

After 10 years as artistic director of The Fabulous Leopard Percussionists, Diane began to explore how she might make the Leopard Percussionist experience available to children throughout the metro Louisville community. In 2003, The Louisville Leopard Percussionists launched as a freestanding community 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, committed to providing the Leopard Percussionist experience to all children in the community.

The participants are not selected because they are considered musically gifted. These are ordinary kids.

The group’s vision is for participants of diverse backgrounds to develop music appreciation, performance skills, proficiency on a variety of percussion instruments, and learn to improvise, compose, and teach music, and to care for their instruments. These skills build creativity and self-confidence and teach life-long values of personal discipline, cooperation, leadership, responsibility, and community.

Based on what I have seen, the group is accomplishing its mission.

I’m confident this experience will serve the participants well throughout their lives.

I’m even more excited about how a group like this can bring a community together.

The participants learn the value of hard work. They learn to cooperate and function as part of a team, and to create something together that is greater than the individuals could achieve on their own.

What a refreshing concept. Many adults could benefit from the lessons these kids have learned.

Working together, they are building something beautiful, rather than promoting divisiveness and tearing each other down.

It’s enough to make a curmudgeon smile.

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