Music from the African and African American tradition has found an audience in Centre County thanks to Dr. Anthony Leach and Essence 2. Essence 2 is a local, nonprofit community choir that performs two major concerts per year and participates in other events around the area. It brings secular and sacred music from the African and African American tradition to a community that may not have access to it otherwise.

Essence 2 is an offshoot of Essence of Joy, a student choir within the Penn State School of Music organized by Dr. Leach in 1991. Several years later, Essence 2 was formed as a way for members of the broader community, not just Penn State students, to get involved.

When Dr. Leach retired from Penn State in 2018, he had more time to dedicate to the choir and decided to add a new concert to the calendar. Since then, Essence 2 has provided an annual Black History Month concert to the public each February.

“I had time to do some extra things with the choir. I also wanted them to understand their role as a choir, and as a presenter of the arts,” said Dr. Leach.

Essence 2 received a grant from Centre Foundation to support its very first Black History Month Concert in 2019. Previous performances have featured local artists and Essence of Joy Alumni Singers, a high school choral invitational, and an event at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Gray’s Woods.

This year, Essence 2 hosted its Black History Month concert with the theme “Traditions and Trends in African American Sacred Music.” The choir focused on five hymns and how they, in their original form, have been transformed in the African American church.

“[The hymns include] spirituals, traditional and/or contemporary gospel, anthem arrangements, praise and worship arrangements, and congregational singing in general,” expanded Dr. Leach.

Last fall, Essence 2 applied once again for funding from Centre Foundation to support their 2023 concert and received a grant of $1,000 from the Patricia Farrell Music Fund. This fund is part of the Foundation’s Field-of-Interest program, which is comprised of unique endowment funds established by donors to support various causes and/or geographical areas across Centre County.

Pat Farrell established the fund to support music programs of all types, specifically those that focused on children and enhance the availability of music programs across Centre County. She was a past Board Chair at Centre Foundation, active community volunteer, and a lover of music. Her legacy as a musician, teacher, and community leader lives on as this fund supports local music programs like Essence 2 each year.

Dr. Leach is proud to serve as the director of this nonprofit and bring music from the African and African American tradition to Centre County and beyond.

“My goal, being the educator that I am, has been and remains to be an opportunity for people to be informed, in some cases be challenged, and to experience this music in real-time as best I can do. And what I can’t do, I’ll bring in somebody else, or I’ll put us on trains, planes, and buses and go where it’s happening in real-time,” he said.

Visit Essence 2’s website to learn more about this nonprofit and how they are connecting with the community through African and African American music.

Join our newsletter to stay up to date with all things Centre Foundation, from news to stories and more!