When Anthony Leach (’82 M.Music, ’96 Ph.D. Music Education), professor of music and music education at Penn State, came to the University as a graduate student, he was hungry—for experiences.
“I was really hungry for things in academia that would inform my perspective as a teacher and as a musician,” he said. “Music has always been a big deal for me.”
As a child, he repeatedly asked his mother for piano lessons, until she finally decided he was old enough at age 7. By the time he was 12, Leach was already conducting his first choirs. He went on to teach for nearly fourteen years in public schools in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York City—four before his master’s degree, and another ten before returning to Penn State to complete the Ph.D. in music education.
Teaching and choral conducting have given Leach the opportunity to make positive connections with others. “When I came for the master’s degree,” he said, “it was a breakthrough moment. I began as a piano performance major, but it didn’t take long to realize that it was just me and the piano, and after teaching for four years, I missed the kids!”
While he was still a graduate student, Leach was approached by Penn State’s Forum on Black Affairs about providing music for the Martin Luther King Jr. Banquet. Although he did not have a choir of his own, he was able to assemble twenty-three students from Penn State choirs to perform, and they became the first edition of Essence of Joy. Essence of Joy is now one of the School of Music’s ten choirs, performing sacred and secular music from African and African-American choral traditions. Leach went on to found a community choir, Essence 2, as well as the Essence of Joy Alumni Singers. “I’m glad I accepted that invitation, because the rest of my career has been shaped around events with Essence of Joy. The choir has become my calling card to the choral profession,” he said.
Leach credits mentors like Doug Miller, Raymond Brown, Keith Thompson, and Lynn Drafall with “recognizing my potential for what I could bring to choral conducting and music education.” As he neared the end of the Ph.D. program, the School of Music offered Leach a faculty position. “Penn State made room for my gifts, and it’s been wonderful allowing all of that to come together in an embrace of myself as a person while I helped others find their passion and voice.”