The Louisville Leopard Percussionists are a performing ensemble comprised of student musicians in grades 2-9, who reside in 33 different Louisville zip codes and attend 49 different schools in and around Louisville, Kentucky.
Mission & Vision
Our mission is to provide a comprehensive musical experience for children that enriches lives and builds community.
Our 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
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 in Louisville. After ten 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 the fall of 2003, The Louisville Leopard Percussionists launched as a freestanding community 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, committed to providing the exciting and enriching Leopard Percussionist experience to all children in the Louisville community.
Diane, founder & artistic director
Diane Downs is the founder and artistic director of The Louisville Leopard Percussionists. She is from Louisville, KY and began playing music at home at a very early age. She participated in band throughout school and entered Morehead State University in Morehead, KY with a music scholarship. After taking a year off of college to teach music in Montego Bay, Jamaica, she returned to Morehead to pursue her degree in elementary education. Diane earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in elementary education from Morehead State University in Morehead, KY and a Rank 1 status from the University of Louisville in the areas of gifted education and jazz pedagogy.
Diane founded The Fabulous Leopard Percussionists in 1993, directed that group for ten years and then created The Louisville Leopard Percussionists, a non-profit, community based group. She also assists the “We Got The Beat” percussion ensemble in Fresno, CA and serves as a consultant to numerous elementary percussion ensemble programs around the United States. Diane was a teacher in the Jefferson County Public School System for 28 years. From 1989-2003 she taught 2nd & 3rd grade at ML King Elementary and from 2003-2018 she taught music at Norton Elementary. To learn more about Diane, click here: http://wfpl.org/five-things-teacher-diane-downs-on-music-confidence-and-mowing-the-lawn/
In recognition for her work, Diane received the 1996 WHAS TV/PNC Bank ExCel Award, the 2001 Governor’s Award for Excellence in Arts Education, the 2004 Louisville Arts Council Community Arts Award in Music, the 2005 Today’s Woman Magazine Most Admired Woman in Louisville in Education Award, the 2008 National Cable Leaders in Learning Award, the 2015 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr Living the Vision Award, and the 2018 John LaPorta Jazz Educator of the Year Award through The Jazz Education Network and Berklee College of Music.
Meg, ensemble director
Meg Samples hails from Mt. Sterling, KY and has been working with the Leopards since November of 2008. She graduated from the University of Louisville Jamey Aebersold Jazz Program in 2010 with a Bachelors of Arts in Jazz drum set.
Meg co-directs the Advanced and Beginner Leopard groups. Her main focus with the program has been arranging and drum set instruction.
Outside of the Leopards, Meg is an associate producer and night host for 91.9 WFPK’s AfterDark. She is also the music director and programmer for Girls Rock Louisville https://girlsrocklouisville.org, teaches private drum lessons, and performs independently with many other wonderful musicians in the regional area.
Her current percussion projects include drumming with an eclectic jazz quartet Squeeze-bot http://squeezebot.com/, indie rock group The Deloreans, indie-folk group Bridge-19, electro-pop trio Big Momma Thorazine, and Nashville crooner, Dawn Landes. Meg has the best time ever working with such wonderful kids, the other assistant directors, and all the wonderful parents! She is supremely thankful to have found such a wonderful family in the Leopards.
Price, ensemble director
Louisville native Price McGuffey has been lucky to be involved with music his whole life. At the age of four, he graduated from pots and pans to a toy drum set and at the age of 7 joined The Fabulous Leopard Percussionists in their last year before they made the switch to the community-based group they are today. Price participated in over 40 performances with the Leopards including performances with artists Joe Morello, Zoro, and Ruben Alvarez and he was featured alongside the group in the HBO documentary “The Leopards Take Manhattan: The Little Band That Roared”.
He found success throughout grade school being selected as a performer yearly between 2007 and 2012 on multiple instruments in high chair placements each year for All-County, All-State, and National Ensembles in the Jazz and Classical genres. He attended the Youth Performing Arts School as a double major in saxophone and percussion and was sought out as a guest performer across the arts programs offered at the school.
In more recent years, Price has been involved with performances at U of L alongside artists such as Ndugu Chancler, Don Braden, Wycliffe Gordon, Alan Broadbent, META Quintet, and Amina Figarova, and outside of U of L he has toured and performed with Ben Sollee as a percussionist/keyboardist.
Currently he will be appearing as the drummer/percussionist on Wilder Stallions’ upcoming album, “The Intergalactic Funk Monorail,” and works as the drummer/vocalist for Funkasaurus; percussionist/multi-instrumentalist for Carly Johnson and the Believers; and will be performing drum set with Freemove Dance in New York City for their first evening length feature entitled, “It’s Time”. He is very happy to be co-directing the Leopards with such a fantastic group of teachers.
Carly, ensemble director
Carly Rodman is a Louisville native, born and raised. She has loved music since she could kick along to the beat while still in her mother’s belly. She was lucky enough to be born into The Fabulous Leopard Percussionist while her brother was a member. She later joined The Louisville Leopard Percussionist when she entered the 2nd grade. Once she graduated from the Leopards after 6th grade, she became one of the founding members of The Steel Leopard Percussionists group.
Nearly 12 years later, she is now one of the ensemble teachers for the beginner group of Louisville Leopard Percussionists, Leopard Lite group, and the Steel Leopards group.
Kent, ensemble director
Kent Klarer is a trombonist by trade, and is proud to call himself an honorary percussionist since he began with the Leopards in 2017.
Hailing from western Kentucky, Kent studied music with Ray Conklin at Murray State University before attending Indiana University-Bloomington, earning his Bachelor of Music degree.
After graduating, Kent moved to Bosnia & Herzegovina as Principal Trombone of the Sarajevo Philharmonic. There he performed for all opera, ballet, and symphonic productions, and was a touring member of the Sarajevo Brass Quintet.
Since returning to the U.S., Kent has taught music at Floyds Knobs Elementary School, and most recently as Director of Bands at North Harrison Community Schools where he lead jazz, concert, and competitive marching bands, as well as winter drum line. He also revitalized a dormant collaborative arts program with a performance of The Sound of Music.
Currently, Kent plays first trombone in the Brass Band of Louisville, and is also a trombonist, arranger, and board member for Orchestra Enigmatic, a contemporary ensemble featuring music by local composers.
Kent is excited to have found a home with such a dynamic team of Leopard students, teachers, and parents.
Sam, assistant director
Sam Universe is an assistant for the Leopards Lite group. He is a graduate of Oldham County High School (2008) and is currently a student at the University of Louisville. He is a montessori teacher and lover of music.
He marched snare and tenors in his high school drumline as well as playing in the pit. He played in concert band, jazz band and several small ensembles. He’s received individual and group awards at Solo and Ensemble festival and KMEA. He was a participant in all county, all district, and all-state band. He performed across Europe with the Kentucky Ambassadors of Music program and in Canada at the Toronto Heritage Festival. He’s performed in Boston and New York and several places closer to home.
Sam enjoys reading, creative projects, and playing ukulele. He hopes to continue following his passion for music and arts at an academic level. He’s very excited to be working with the Leopards!
Fons, assistant volunteer
Fons Cervera first acquired his love of music when he joined The Louisville Leopard Percussionists in 2007. He was in the group from his second grade year to his sixth grade year. In his sixth grade year he joined The Steel Leopards and remained in that group until his eighth grade year. While in the group he performed at the Percussive Arts Society International Convention in Indianapolis, the Duke Ellington Jazz Festival in Washington DC, and the Jazz Education Network Conference in New Orleans. Since his graduation from the group, Fons has not been able to leave the Leopards.
Fons attended duPont Manual High School, in the Journalism and Communications magnet. For his work on duPont Manual’s online news publication, Manual RedEye, Fons won the Columbia Scholastic Press Association’s Gold Circle Award.
Fons marched first bass drum in the drum line of the duPont Manual High School Crimson Sound Marching Band in his freshman and sophomore years. While in the Crimson Sound, he marched in Walt Disney World’s Main Street Electrical Parade. His freshman year of high school, he wrote and directed a piece for the Leopards at their 2015 Big Gig.
When Fons isn’t with the Leopards, he enjoys playing his drum set or ukulele, and eating. He will be attending Northeastern University in Boston in the fall of 2018 but will continue to work with the Leopards on his visits home.
Dani, ensemble director
Dani Markham began playing with The Louisville Leopard Percussionists as an 8 year old, where she discovered her love for music. Today, Markham is one of the most daring and inventive percussionists working today, and is in high demand across the pop and contemporary music world, as well as the New York theatre scene. As a touring member of influential bands Tuneyards and Grammy-winner Childish Gambino (Donald Glover), Dani has played all around the world. Recent stage appearances include the 2018 Grammy Music Awards with Childish Gambino, onstage drumming for Sonya Tayeh’s acclaimed ‘You’ll Still Call Me By My Name’, and as a featured guest on Saturday Night Live. Markham is a Latin Percussion and Musser endorsed artist, and is a graduate from the acclaimed Frost School of Music of The University of Miami.
Dani Markham is currently based in Brooklyn, NY and works with the Leopards during the summer and throughout the year when she returns to Louisville as her schedule allows.
Kelsey Lee was born and raised in Louisville, KY. She picked up her first pair of sticks and mallets at the early age of 5 and has yet to put them down. A member of the prestigious local group previously known as The Fabulous Leopard Percussionists from kindergarten to 6th grade, her tenure included performances at the Kentucky and Indiana State Music Educators Association Conventions, the Atlanta International Band and Orchestra Convention, the Kentucky chapter of the Percussive Arts Society Day fo Percussion, and the 1999 International Association for Jazz Education Convention in New Orleans.
After aging out of The Fabulous Leopard Percussionists, Kelsey continued her percussion studies through private lessons while at DuPont Manual High School and the Youth Performing Arts School focusing her skills on the marimba, snare drum, and Latin percussion studies. She became a member of the YPAS Percussion Ensemble which led to her performing at the 2001 Percussive Arts Society International Convention and the 2007 Bands of America conference in Indianapolis. She also participate in all-county and all-state bands during her middle and high school years and earned distinguished ratings for her performances at the annual Kentucky Music Educators’ Association convention. Outside of her formal education, Kelsey played in the University of Louisville pep band, her church, and various special event around town.
Kelsey is endorsed by the Toca Percussion Company and Sabian Cymbals and has performed with world-renowned musicians including CJ Vanston, Michael Fitzpatrick, Victor Mendoza, Dani Markham, Dan Dorff, Jerry Steinholtz, Hannah Ford Welton, Louie Bellson, Ruben Alvarez, and Ndugu Chancler. She hd the pleasure of opening for Bruno Mars, Clarlene Carter, and the 2014 Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Awards.
When she’s not busy molding the minds of young musicians and performing, Kelsey enjoys hula hooping and fire juggling. A graduate from Indiana University Southeast with a degree in elementary education, she volunteers for the WHAS Crusade for Children and teaches drum clinics sot non-profit organizations and schools. She also performs with The Souther Sirens child serving as a guest performer for many local musicians with various musical styles, ranging from Latin to rock to bluegrass and more. Kelsey’s most recent venture has been laying percussion in an all girl band, Bungalow Betty.
Aaron, assistant director
Aaron Klausing, a graduate of Oldham County High School (1999), completed his high school education with a variety of musical recognitions. While receiving his bachelor’s degree from the University of Kentucky in Music Education (2004), Aaron was involved in the University of Kentucky’s percussion ensemble, orchestra, symphonic band, marching band, pep band, and steel band. During the summer of 2000, he marched with the Southwind Drum and Bugle Corp and has played in the Americana Folk band, the Rainjunkies®, from Lexington, Kentucky. Aaron has also performed at the PASIC, KMEA, and with the Appalachian Brass Orchestra. In addition to his performances, he has arranged and composed music for various middle and high schools in Kentucky.
Aaron attended the University of Louisville’s school of music where he graduated with his master’s degree in music education in 2010. While attending UofL, Aaron served as the principal percussionist in the University Wind Ensemble.
Aaron joined the Leopards in January of 2008 as an assistant teacher and arranger, and also started The Steel Leopards in 2009 as lead teacher and arranger. Aaron currently teaches band in Owensboro, KY but still helps with the Leopards.
Board of Directors
- Jessica Murr, President
- Matthew Banker, Vice President
- Seanna Bezehertny, Immediate Past President
- Chris Jozefowicz, Secretary
- Tamuna Loladze, Treasurer
- Laura Wheeler
- John Scruton
- Colleen Conley
- Adam Loewy
- Kristin Wingfeld
- Debbie Woods
- Amber Fox-Young
- Kate Kolb
- Caroline Taylor