'Leopard’s Rhythm' | Circle Round 99

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(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)
(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)

When’s the last time you gave a performance?

Maybe you sang in a concert, or you did a magic trick for your family.

Performing can be fun, but it can sometimes make us nervous.

We’re about to meet an animal who refuses to perform in front of anyone, and the other animals have no idea why. Until the tiniest critter has the biggest idea of all!

Our story is called “Leopard’s Rhythm.” Versions of this tale come from the Ashanti people of Ghana, in West Africa.

Voices in this episode include Mike DelGaudio, Delores King Williams, James Konicek, Eric Shimelonis, and Tonya Mosley. Tonya is the co-host of Here & Now from NPR and WBUR, and also hosts the podcast, Truth Be Told.

Coloring Page

ADULTS! PRINT THIS so everyone can color while listening. We’re also keeping an album so share your picture on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and tag it with #CircleRound. We'd love to see it! To access all the coloring pages for past episodes click HERE. Our resident artist is Sabina Hahn and you can learn more about her HERE.

Things To Think About After Listening

If you could make one wish, what would it be? Think about it, then find some paper and draw a picture of your wish.

Experts say that sharing a wish or goal with someone else makes you even more likely to achieve it. So talk with a grown-up in your life about what you can do to help make your wish come true.

Musical Spotlight: 

(Eric Shimelonis for WBUR)
(Eric Shimelonis for WBUR)

The mbira is an African instrument consisting of a small wooden board with thin metal pieces attached to the top; the pieces are all different sizes and play different notes. As with the kalimba (which you’ll hear in our episode, “Sweet and Sour”), you hold the mbira’s board in your hands, then pluck the metal pieces with your thumbs. Experts say the mbira dates back 3,000 years, but back then the keys weren’t made of metal; they were made of wood or bamboo. To learn more about the mbira, you can hear composer Eric Shimelonis talk about it in “What Am I Hearing?”: our special music episode of Circle Round!


NARRATOR: Long ago, when the world was new, the God of the Sky created the forests, birds, and animals.

One day, Sky God decided he would throw a party to honor all of his children — from the palm trees and fruit trees, evergreens and acacias… to the eagles and hawks, hyenas and aardvarks.

SKY GOD: Oh, what a grand celebration this will be! I’ll serve the most delectable foods, the most delicious drinks… and we’ll have dancing! Marvelous, joyous dancing!

NARRATOR: But in order to have dancing, you need music, right? And Sky God had a very particular kind of music in mind.

SKY GOD: Drumming! Wonderful, rhythmic drumming! (beat) And I know just who I want to play.

NARRATOR: Now, it just so happens that in those days, the most talented drummer around... was Leopard.

Leopard owned a big, beautiful drum painted with all the colors of the rainbow. The drum’s body was carved from glossy mahogany wood, and its head was made of smooth, tan cowhide.

But here’s the thing about Leopard’s drum.

He refused to play it... for anybody! Even Sky God!

So the powerful spirit gathered all of the other animals and birds together, and made an announcement.

SKY GOD: My children. I am hosting a magnificent festival to honor all of my creations on this earth. We’ll eat, we’ll drink, and we’ll dance… to the thumping, bumping rhythms of Leopard’s drum!

NARRATOR: The animals and birds exchanged a confused look.

SKY GOD: Now, my children — I know what you’re thinking. ‘Leopard has never played his drum for anyone; why would he start now?’ (beat) Well, that’s up to you to figure out! Whichever one of you can bring me Leopard and his drum… well, I will grant you exactly one wish. Whatever your heart desires… it is yours.

NARRATOR: The animals and birds thrilled at the idea of having one of their wishes come true. The first animal to step forward… was Elephant.

ELEPHANT: (confident, even overly so) I’ll do it, Sky God! An elephant like me is big and bold. I will bring you Leopard and his drum!

NARRATOR: So “big, bold” Elephant tromped off through the jungle, his rough, gray trunk swinging as he made his way to Leopard’s house.

LEOPARD: (suspicious, cagey) Why, hello there, Elephant. What brings you here today…?

NARRATOR: Elephant stretched out his trunk and gave a loud trumpet.

[SOT: elephant trumpet]

ELEPHANT: (confident, puffing himself up) Well, Leopard, it just so happens that I have come for you and your drum! So you can play at Sky God’s party! (puffing up even more) Since I’m so big and bold, I told Sky God that naturally you’d listen to me. I mean, after all, I’m way taller than you, I’m way heavier than you, I’m way — (gets interrupted)

LEOPARD: Enough!

NARRATOR: Leopard stuck out his razor-sharp claws and lunged toward “big, bold” Elephant… who immediately cowered in the corner.

LEOPARD: Listen, Elephant! I don’t play my drum for anyone! Anyone! Not even Sky God! (beat) Now, get out of my house!

NARRATOR: Elephant tried to still his trembling body.

ELEPHANT: (freaked out but trying not-very-successfully to act confident) Okay, fine, Leopard. I’ll go. But not because you’re telling me to. Because I want to! After all, I’m big, and bold, and --

NARRATOR: Leopard snarled, showing off his pointy white teeth.

LEOPARD: (ad-lib snarl/growl)

ELEPHANT: Okay, okay! (nervous/feeble attempt at humor) Guess I’ll make like a drum... and beat it! If you’ll, uh, pardon the expression...

NARRATOR: Then Elephant turned around and tramped back to Sky God and the other animals, with his grey tail between his legs.

SKY GOD: Well, Elephant… thanks for trying. (beat) Is there anyone else who will bring me Leopard and his drum?

NARRATOR: There was a long pause. Then, Python stepped — or slithered — forward.

PYTHON: (hiss-like delivery) I’ll do it, Ssssky God! A sssssnake like me is sssssly, and ssssssslick. I will bring you Leopard and hissss drum!

NARRATOR: So Python glided off through the jungle, her brown and gold body weaving this way and that as she made her way to Leopard’s house.

LEOPARD: (more suspicious, cagey) Greetings, Python. What brings you here today?

NARRATOR: Python flicked her tongue.

PYTHON: Well, Leopard, I’m here to introduccccccce an exquissssssite opportunity. You sssssssee, thissssss gig came up — thisssss mussssssical performanccccce — and of courssssssse I thought of you! Ssssssky God needsssss a drummer to accompany hissssss cccccccelebration, and though it doessssssn’t pay, it’ssssss a chanccccce for sssssssome amazing exposure, and — (gets interrupted)

LEOPARD: Silence!

NARRATOR: Leopard twitched his whiskers and shook his yellow and black head.

LEOPARD: Listen, Python. It’s like I told Elephant — I don’t play my drum for anyone! Anyone! Not even Sky God! (beat) Now, get out of my house!

NARRATOR: Leopard let out a growl…

LEOPARD: (ad-lib growl)

NARRATOR: ...and began creeping toward Python.

PYTHON: (not so “slick” anymore) Ummmm, what if I told you the gig included free sssssnackssss...? And drinkssssss...?

NARRATOR: Soon Leopard was so close to Python that she could see her frightened reflection in his amber-colored eyes.

PYTHON: (definitely not so “slick” anymore) Okay, Leopard, it ssssseems your mind issss made up. I guesssss I’ll jussssst ssssskedaddle!

NARRATOR: Then Python turned around and wriggled back to Sky God and the other animals, with her scaly head hung low.

SKY GOD: I appreciate you giving it a go, Python. You did your best. (beat) But I still need someone who can bring me Leopard and his drum! Will anyone else volunteer…? Anyone…?

NARRATOR: Sky God looked from one of his children to another, but no one said a word. Well, not at first. But then…

TURTLE: I’ll do it, Sky God! I’ll bring you Leopard and his drum!

NARRATOR: The animals and birds gasped. For who should come shuffling forward… but tiny little Turtle.

Back when our story takes place, Turtle looked very different from the way she does now. You see, back then, Turtle didn’t have a shell to protect her! She was just a soft, green, wrinkled creature, with a soft, green wrinkled back, inching along on four soft, green, wrinkled legs.

So as soon as Turtle spoke up, the other animals and birds couldn’t help...


NARRATOR: … but laugh!

SOT: [laughter continues]

ELEPHANT: Would you get a load of this wrinkly pipsqueak?

PYTHON: She thinksssss she can ssssssucccccceed…?

ELEPHANT: She’s so small...!

PYTHON: ...and sssssssslow!

SOT: [laughter continues]

SKY GOD: Children!

SOT: [laughter stops]

SKY GOD: Please! We do not mock our brothers and sisters! And if Turtle thinks she can bring me Leopard and his drum, we’ll give Turtle a chance to bring me Leopard and his drum. (beat) Alright, little one…. (a bit more slowly) Let’s see what you can do!

NARRATOR: What would you do if you were Turtle? How would you bring Leopard and his drum to Sky God’s party?

We’ll find out what she does, after a quick break.


NARRATOR: I’m Rebecca Sheir. Welcome back to Circle Round. Today our story is called “Leopard’s Rhythm.”

NARRATOR: Before the break, Sky God was planning a party for his children: the animals, birds and trees. It would be a grand feast, with sumptuous foods, delicious drinks, and dancing. And to accompany that dancing, Sky God wanted drumming… Leopard’s drumming!

Sky God announced that whoever convinced Leopard to play at the party would be granted one wish. But when “big, bold” Elephant and “sly, slick” Python approached the fierce, spotted beast, he frightened both of them away!

Then, another creature volunteered to help Sky God:

Tiny, green, shell-less Turtle.

TURTLE: Listen, everybody. I know you think I’m too small to succeed. And it’s true — I have a soft little body. But I also have big, strong ideas! And I know just how to bring Leopard and his drum to Sky God’s party. Just you wait.

NARRATOR: So Turtle toddled off through the jungle, to Leopard’s house. It took her a whole lot longer than it took Elephant and Python… and as Turtle inched along, her soft little body got scraped by pebbles and splashed by puddles. But eventually, she arrived.

TURTLE: Hey there, Leopard!

NARRATOR: Leopard peered down at Turtle.

LEOPARD: Ah, Turtle. What brings you here today? No - let me guess. Sky God has sent you so that I’ll play my drum at his party. (beat) Well, like I told Elephant, and Python, I don’t play my drum for anyone! Anyone! Not even Sky God! (beat) Now, get out of my house!

NARRATOR: Leopard growled at Turtle…

LEOPARD: (ad-lib growl)

NARRATOR: ...and bared his razor-sharp claws and teeth. But the soft, green, wrinkled creature didn’t budge.

TURTLE: (hatching her plan) Actually, Leopard… I’ve heard that Sky God has already found someone to play the drum at his party! And I hear that this drummer is every bit as amazing as you are!

NARRATOR: Leopard cocked his yellow and black head.

LEOPARD: (unwittingly taking the bait) Wait a minute — what?!?? Sky God has found someone to play the drum at his celebration?!? Someone who’s as good as I am?!? That’s ridiculous! Preposterous! Absolute hogwash! (beat) Tell me, Turtle. When is Sky God throwing this party of his?

TURTLE: (innocently) This evening, at sunset.

LEOPARD: And this drummer you’re talking about… he’ll be there when the sun goes down...?

TURTLE: (continuing her plan) If all goes well! And let me tell you — Sky God could not be more excited about it. (beat, nonchalant) Anyway, just thought I’d share the news. See you around, Leopard!

NARRATOR: That evening, as the setting sun splashed streaks of pink, purple and orange across the vast sky, the animals and birds were clustered in the forest, buzzing and humming with excitement about Sky God’s party. When Turtle arrived, Python and Elephant smirked and called out to the pint-sized creature.

PYTHON: (calling out, taunting/skeptical) Sssssso, Turtle...!

ELEPHANT: (calling out, taunting/skeptical) Whuddya think...?

PYTHON: Will Leopard actually gracccccce usssss with hissss presssencccce?

ELEPHANT: ….and play his drum? Because, hey, if a big, bold animal like me couldn’t convince him…

PYTHON: ...and a sssssly, ssssslick animal like me couldn’t convinccccccce him…

ELEPHANT: … then why in the world would that bully listen to a puny little munchkin like --

[SOT: drumming]

ELEPHANT: (gasp, surprise) Wait a minute!

NARRATOR: Elephant stuck out a large, gray ear.

ELEPHANT: Is that the sound… of drumming?!???

PYTHON: It issssssn’t posssssible!

NARRATOR: But guess what?

[SOT: drumming continues]

NARRATOR: It was possible. Very possible!

Because do you know who was striding toward the party with his big, beautiful drum strapped around his neck?

You guessed it...

TURTLE: Leopard!!!! (beat) I knew he would come!

NARRATOR: Leopard marched closer and closer, throwing his furry paws up, down and around as he thumped and bumped out a lively rhythm.

Sky God rushed over to Turtle and wrapped her tiny, shell-less body in a hug.

SKY GOD: You did it, Turtle! You did it! (beat) But… how?

NARRATOR: Turtle didn’t say a word. Instead, she began bobbing her soft, little green head. Then, she began swaying her soft, little green hips.

And as the drum’s rhythms rocketed through the air, the other animals and birds joined in. If they had tails, they swished their tails… if they had toes, they tapped their toes… if they had wings, they flapped their wings. And before long, every single creature was strutting, shimmying and dancing! Sky God was, too!

When Leopard’s rhythm slowed, the dancing slowed. When his rhythm sped up, the dancing sped up. And though they didn’t say it out loud, every single animal and bird knew that they had never heard such glorious drumming in their entire life.

But then… just as quickly as the drumming started…

[SOT: drumming stops]

NARRATOR: … it stopped.

The dancing did, too. The animals and birds turned toward Leopard, their chests heaving as they tried to catch their breath.

ELEPHANT: (recovering from dancing) That’s it, Leopard...?

PYTHON: (recovering from dancing) The drumming isssss over...?

NARRATOR: As the animals and birds fixed Leopard with a quizzical gaze… he fixed them with a withering glare.

LEOPARD: Oh, you silly creatures! Of course the drumming is over! My drumming, anyway! I figured I’d save time for this hot-shot drummer you invited to the party. If this guy is so great, then let’s hear his stuff!

NARRATOR: Leopard put down his drum and began darting around, peering behind bushes and trees and rocks.

LEOPARD: Where is this hot-shot drummer of yours?!? I want to hear him play! Where is he?!??

NARRATOR: As the flummoxed jungle cat darted this way and that, Sky God and Turtle exchanged a smile.

SKY GOD: (calling out as Leopard runs around) Actually, Leopard, we should tell you... That “hot-shot drummer” you’re talking about... he’s already here!

TURTLE: (calling out as Leopard runs around) Yup! We just got to hear him play! For the first time ever! (beat, sincere) And it was glorious.

NARRATOR: Leopard froze in his tracks. He scrunched up his forehead and thought for a moment.

Then… his brow unfurrowed… his amber-colored eyes lit up… and his yellow-and-black spotted face broke into a smile. Because, suddenly it dawned on him who the “hot-shot drummer” actually was.


LEOPARD: (quietly, slowly, sincerely) So… wait. You really think my playing was ‘glorious’?

SKY GOD: That’s right, ‘hot-shot’!

TURTLE: It was amazing, Leopard! (beat) But what we can’t understand is… why did you never want to share your drumming with us before? Why have you always refused to play for anyone?

NARRATOR: Leopard’s face was covered in fur, but the other animals and birds could have sworn they saw him blush.

LEOPARD: (more vulnerable than ever) You really want to know why I refused to play? (beat, big revelation) Stage fright! I was afraid I would mess up, make a mistake. I mean, somehow I earned this reputation as being this fantastic drummer... and it freaked me out! So I tried freaking you out — scaring you, bullying you, and driving you away — so that I wouldn’t have to play. (beat) I just didn’t want to disappoint you.

TURTLE: Oh, Leopard.

NARRATOR: Turtle shook her wrinkly little green head.

TURTLE: Everybody makes mistakes! Even when they’re doing something they love!

SKY GOD: Turtle’s right! You don’t have to be perfect, Leopard. I didn’t fashion any of my creations to be perfect. (beat, sincere) You just have to be yourself.

NARRATOR: And from that day forward, that’s exactly what Leopard was — himself. His thumping, bumping self, playing his big, beautiful drum for anyone who wished to listen.

As for Turtle… Sky God promised he’d grant the soft, green, wrinkled creature one wish. Anu guesses what the soft, green, wrinkled creature wished for...?

A shell!

Now, Turtle had something to keep her safe, warm and dry as she made her way through the jungle. Her new shell also doubled as a house… so every night, the little creature could curl up inside and dream big dreams.

Headshot of Rebecca Sheir

Rebecca Sheir Host, Circle Round
Rebecca Sheir is the host "Circle Round," WBUR's kids storytelling podcast.



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