Oh, man, it is my serious pleasure to write this blog! I owe this particular find to frame drummer Candy Eaton, who sent me a link to a YouTube video featuring some amazing young musicians known as the Louisville Leopard Percussionists.
I opened the clip, and there I saw a group of very young, earnest musicians playing… Kashmir!
Yes, Led Zeppelin’s classic Kashmir! And we’re talking performance! Not sorta kinda, not, “Oh look, how cute, it’s kids playing Led Zeppelin.” We’re talking focus, intensity, and conviction.
So, like any immediately curious soul, I Googled these youngsters to get the lowdown…
… which led me to http://www.louisvilleleopardpercussionists.com
If you’ll take a few minutes after reading this blog and watch the following promo video, it’ll give you a very good overview of what these amazing players are all about.
The short version: 65 or so kids, ranging in ages from 7-12, who live in the greater Louisville, Kentucky area. They learn multiple percussion instruments, including xylophone, vibraphone, marimba, bongos, congas, timbales, drum set, and piano… and then they blow you away!
Their founder and artistic director is Diane Downs, who took her bachelors and Masters degrees in elementary education and used them to create the Fabulous Leopard Percussionists in 1993. Ten years later, they evolved into the Louisville Leopards, described on their website as a non-profit, community based group. This means they are a 501(c)(3) organization, so please look at the Donate link on the bottom of their website Home page when you visit it if you’d like to help them out in any way.
The collective academic and percussion pedigree of Diane’s team is nothing short of awesome. As I read through the bios of devoted souls in the About Us link, I was repeatedly floored by how much teaching and performing horsepower Diane had brought together, and when you watch a few video clips, you’ll be quite floored by the results.
Within the main organization, there are three sub-programs offered, each with a specific focus. Leopards Lite is a less-intense version of the main performance group, designed to let more kids get the basic Leopard experience and also participate and perform in the annual Spring, Big Gig event.
Steel Leopards is a post-graduate performance group, founded by assistant director Aaron Klausing in 2009, comprised of around a dozen Louisville Leopards graduates, 6th through 9th grade. The group is currently taught by Meg Samples, Kelsey Lee, Price McGuffy, who all also work as Louisville Leopard assistants.
Summer Camp is a week-long percussion camp offered to kids in 2nd through 5th grade, designed for those with no prior musical experience. They cover drum set, hand drumming, percussion rudiments, and mallet percussion ensemble.
Now if you really want to see something impressive, read the Endorsements link on their website. When the likes of such musical luminaries as Carlos Santana, Dave Samuels, Ndugu Chancler, Neil Peart and Joe Morello offer praise and recognition, you know something very intense and authentic is happening.
I mean seriously… they cover Ozzy Ozbourne’s Crazy Train! You never saw so many VibraSlaps in your life!
And two of these Leopards went on to just a bit of musical fame, playing drums for Prince and Tune Yards. Yes, Hannah Ford and Dani Markham earned their spots many years ago, and both artists credit the experience of learning by ear to have helped immensely in their overall musical development.
Many accolades and acknowledgements can (and rightfully will) be directed towards these dedicated performers and their amazing teachers, but I think it’s their own Facebook page and the Short Description that sums them up best:
“Ordinary kids transformed by an extra-ordinary musical experience.”
Jimmy Page certainly thinks so, enough that he posted the Kashmir link on his own Facebook page with the comments, “Too good not to share. Have a rockin’ weekend.”
I imagine their website pretty much lit up like Times Square when the legendary Mr. Page launched those words!
Meanwhile, if you are in the Louisville area, mark Sunday, April 19, on your calendar so you can check out these amazing performers at their Big Gig. But personally, I think their REAL Big Gig was being featured on HBO Family, “The Music In Me,” in a segment called, “The Leopards Take Manhattan: The Little Band That Roared.”
I wish I could go hear them, but California to Kentucky is a bit of a stretch. Regardless, Neil Peart’s words about the Louisville Leopard Percussionists couldn’t sum up my own feelings better:
“I’m very glad to know such things are being done in the world.”
Now if only they’d cover The Black Page…
What do you say, kids? 🙂