The Louisville Leopard Percussionists are a performing ensemble comprised of student musicians in grades 2-8, 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.
The Louisville Leopard Percussionists have always celebrated our diversity with kids from all different races and identities. We teach our kids about the essential contributions of black musicians and their culture. Honoring the legacy of black music and what its depth has created in our culture and in American music will forever be a priority in our organization’s mission.
We believe black lives matter and we are heartbroken by the injustices and racism that continues to exist in the black community. Racism is learned. It is never too early to talk to children about injustice. We hope families will work with their children to dismantle bias and promote inclusion, tolerance, and meaningful change to create a better community and better future. We encourage our voices as musicians, community members, and human beings to be used to stand up for injustice when we see it or experience it.
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 supports 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, the 2018 John LaPorta Jazz Educator of the Year Award through The Jazz Education Network and Berklee College of Music, and the 2019 Percussive Arts Society Outstanding Supporter Award. Diane is a member of The Percussive Arts Society, The Jazz Education Network, National Association for Music Education, and is active with Hit Like A Girl.
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.
She is now the lead arranger and ensemble director for the beginner Leopards, introducing them to new percussion instruments and techniques, preparing them to continue on their Leopard journey.
Kent, ensemble director
Kent Klarer is the lead teacher and arranger for the Advanced, Leopards Lite, and Steel Leopards. A trombonist by trade, he 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.
Wesley, ensemble director
Wes Greer is an ensemble director for all the Leopard groups – the Beginners, Advanced, Leopards Lite, and Steel. He is a freelance drummer and hand percussionist from Rockville, Maryland. He started playing music in the 5th grade and has since graduated from West Virginia University with a BM in Jazz Studies. He worked with the WVU combos and WVU Big Band extensively. In addition to playing with the school, Wesley worked with local cover bands and churches from West Virginia and taught at the Newport Jazz Camp in Rhode Island.
Wesley can be found playing on Celebrating 40 Years of Jazz by The West Virginia University Jazz Ensemble, Jocassee by Tanner Davis, and with the WVU World Music Ensembles. Wesley also played in the Mid Atlantic Jazz Festival with the WVU Big Band, the West Virginia Wine & Jazz Festival with WVU combos, and the Thailand International Jazz Conference with WVU combos.
Meg Samples hails from Mt. Sterling, KY and started working with the Leopards in 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.
She is currently based in Portland, OR but visits the Leopards periodically when she comes back home. Meg co-directed the Advanced and Beginner Leopard groups. Her main focus with the program was arranging and drum set instruction.
Meg has had 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.
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 is currently attending Northeastern University in Boston and continues to work with the Leopards on his visits home.
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 Tune Yards 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.
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
- Sherry Rudolph
- Caroline Taylor