If one had walked past the woodshop area in the back of Cherry Hill High School East last Monday, they may have heard some familiar songs from music legends such as James Brown and Michael Jackson being performed.
Those sounds were coming from Inspiration East, a jazz and funk band consisting of Cherry Hill East students, staff and alumni.
For years, Inspiration East has performed at numerous Cherry Hill East events. On Dec. 4, the band is taking its act outside the school to raise money and awareness.
The band will be performing a fundraising concert at The Factory in Collingswood on Friday, Dec. 4 at 7 p.m. Proceeds will go toward new music equipment for the band.
Cecil Leonard, Inspiration East’s director, was hired as an applied technology teacher at Cherry Hill East in 2005 and formed the band the following year. Leonard has a passion for jazz and funk music and has formed a band at every school he’s taught.
“Each time I’ve taught at a school, I’ve always formed an after-school band,” Leonard said. “The first band I formed was in 1983 in Austin, Texas.”
After arriving at Cherry Hill East, Leonard began to reach out to students who played instruments, inviting them to join the band.
“I would talk to some of the kids that I knew would play instruments and invite them to come back after school,” he said. “I’d post posters up and invite anyone who plays an instrument if you’re interested in coming and playing in the after-school group, you’re welcome.”
Junior Nick Kepron and sophomore Jaden Williams are student co-leaders of the band this year. The two never thought they would’ve been involved in a band such as Inspiration East before they arrived at Cherry Hill East.
Kepron started with the band after missing music tryouts for the school’s other bands prior to the start of his freshman year.
“A friend of mine who used to play bass said Mr. Leonard, the woodshop teacher, has this band after school. You should talk to him about it,” Kepron said.
Kepron loved the band so much, he invited others to join. Williams was one of the many who was invited. He said the band’s rapport and unique sounds attracted him.
“If you look at a lot of bands, they have fun, but it’s not like this,” Williams said. “We have our own memories, our traditions. It’s just us.”
Inspiration East is not just about music. Leonard gives students the freedom to perfect the songs while he offers them guidance along the way. He believes allowing the students to take a leadership role sets them up for success later in life.
“It’s not about me, it’s about the harmony and unity of the whole group,” Leonard said.
Kepron said the band has allowed students to come out of their shell and develop both as musicians and as people.
“What’s set this band apart the most is it’s not just a band playing great music; it’s an inspirational movement,” he said. “We inspire our members to be the best version of themselves they can be.”
What separates Inspiration East from other school bands is it’s not part of the music department and doesn’t receive funding. Most of the students bring their own instruments, and Leonard supplies most of the sound equipment, most of which is old and in need of replacement.
Rather than raise money through another sort of fundraiser, the band decided to go out into the community and perform a concert.
“We play a lot of shows at East, but we wanted to do something outside the school,” Kepron said. “So the idea of doing a concert where we not only put on an amazing show, but also raise the funds necessary was put together as an idea last April or May.”
Since the school year began, the band has been perfecting a list of 16 songs for the show. Special guests will include Cherry Hill East and West alumni and other instrumentalists from around the Philadelphia region.
Williams said the band is working extra hard as this will be its largest show in its nine-year history.
“You’re going to see a different side of the band that you normally don’t see,” Williams said. “We’re going to have a lot of fun.”
Kepron hopes this year’s concert will become a regular event.
Tickets for the concert are $10 per person and can be purchased at the door. There will also be door prizes, raffles, party snacks and more. For more information, visit Inspiration East’s Facebook page athttps://www.facebook.com/Inspiration-East-1492331754404975/?fref=ts.