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Artistic Director
Louisville Leopard Percussionists
Louisville, Ky.
Cable System: Insight Communications

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In 1993, Diane Downs was digging through a storage closet in her school when she came across some old percussion instruments. That discovery of a trove of instruments 15 years ago has evolved into what is known today as the "Louisville Leopard Percussionists," a music education and community-building program that seeks to educate 7- to-12-year-olds.

With participants from diverse backgrounds, Downs has created a program that helps children develop music appreciation, performance skills and proficiency on a variety of percussion instruments. Students also learn to improvise, compose, teach and care for instruments. The result is children gain skills and experiences that help build creativity and confidence while they also learn personal discipline, cooperation and leadership.

The Louisville Leopard Percussionists appear in and around the city and nationally, performing jazz, Latin, pop and original compositions. The children rotate playing a full range of percussion instruments, including marimbas, vibraphones, xylophones, drum sets, congas, bongos, and timbales. The group has recorded six CDs. The Louisville Leopard Percussionists were also the subject of the HBO Family documentary, "Music in Me: Leopards Take Manhattan." Downs is responsible for all aspects of the program, including selecting, arranging and teaching music; conducting rehearsals; arranging and directing public performances; and selecting guest workshop leaders.

"I've been doing this for over 15 years and it's still just so exciting. Children have an incredible power and magic to them. If you believe in them, and expect them to do it, they probably will. When given the opportunity, they will absolutely amaze you."