Zemya is a women’s a cappella group known for singing a wide range of world folk music––from the Balkans, Russia and the Republic of Georgia to South Africa, the Americas and the British Isles. Based in southern Maine, Zemya is an offbeat group of women who, despite having other lives, recognize the need to reach out to the world around us through the unifying power of song. We celebrate the rich harmonies and diverse vocal traditions of other cultures, with songs about relationships, our histories, lives, and our planet. The group takes its name from “zemya,” the Bulgarian word for earth and soil.
Deborah Gordon (Director)
A lifelong musician, Deborah is the choral director of Zemya, a women’s a cappella vocal ensemble based in Southern Maine. Prior to this, Deborah has taught and performed in various forms and geographical locations including Vancouver Canada, Sweden, Colorado, and Maine. Throughout her musical career, Deborah has sung with a nine-piece traditional jazz band, directed musical theatre, coached voice, and founded two other a cappella ensembles, The Whalers of Chebeague Island, and Octavia of Cumberland, Maine.
Along with her ongoing musical endeavors, Deborah continues to be involved in other art mediums as well. She creates fiber art wear at her Green Point Design Studios, and also photographs clotheslines in Ship Cove, Newfoundland, where she lives and works when not doing the same at her home in Portland. Directing Zemya is unique in that its repertoire is inspired by selections from around the globe and sung in a multitude of languages. Deborah believes that music, and most especially song, acts as a conduit in helping to keep us multiculturally sensitive and aware of the larger world community in which we live.
Joy started singing Newfoundland music as a child, and then was immersed in the folk music of the ’60′s and ’70′s. She sang with a small a cappella group and choir in college. Since moving to Maine in 1975, she sang incessantly with and for her children, and with local choirs and choruses. She has always loved languages and travelling, and cooking the food of many cultures. In recent years Joy has been exposed to many new languages through her work teaching English and literacy to adult students in Portland’s ESOL program. A special highlight of her musical experiences was a three week singing trip in South Africa this past winter with Village Harmony. “Developing great friendships among Zemya members over the past 10 years and singing the fabulous harmonies and languages of the music we learn continues to be a really fun and soul-filling experience!”
Barbara is grateful to her parents for insisting on piano lessons, and for having a great collection of records that included Broadway musicals, big bands and cool jazz, Harry Belafonte, Ella Fitzgerald and Bach. The piano lessons hardwired her to enjoy learning music theory later in life; the record album covers and liner notes filled her early years with an invaluable education about performing artists and musical genres. (She’s glad she grew up with vinyl.) When Barbara moved to Portland 22 years ago, she sang with Women In Harmony and Full Circle in the first years of these women’s groups. Then she got together with friends and formed the mixed a cappella quintet, Referendum (the name was inspired by the movement to support legal protections for gays and lesbians in Maine), and they had a great run for 10 years. When Barbara had the opportunity to join Zemya in 2010, she discovered a repertoire she hadn’t known she would love so much. “My idea of fun is to be smack dab in the middle of lush, vibrant harmonies, and to sing songs that move people. Singing with Zemya gives me all this and more!” Barbara is co-owner of a training & consulting firm, and lives in Portland with her amazing partner of 30 years.
Hildy Ginsberg grew up surrounded by interesting music in Kansas City, Kansas. Influenced by the rock and blues records of her father, the gospel that flowed from the Baptist church behind her house, and the choral music she sang in school chamber choirs, Hildy came to Zemya intrigued and excited by the scope of the repertoire. By day, she is the Executive Director of the Portland YMCA. Hildy began her Y career in 1998 in New York, lived in Chicago, then Connecticut and has happily landed close to family in Scarborough, Maine with her husband, Adam, and two children, Mia and Henry. Hildy also serves as a board member for Girls on the Run-Maine and for the Friends School of Portland, where her children attend.
For as long as she can remember song has been a thread weaving the generations of family together, weaving harmony into the world. Every occasion of family gathering was an occasion for song, for transmitting the family sound to the next generation of singers, so, for Caroline, singing has always been equated with family. Caroline is new to Zemya in 2012, but for 17 years she sang with Full Circle, a woman’s vocal ensemble in Maine. She owned and operated an Audiology practice in Yarmouth for many years and is now very happily a full time farmer and gardener in Pownal.
Abby recently moved to Brunswick after many years of traveling around the country for work, school, and adventures in the wilderness. Throughout her many stages and places in life, music has been a constant for this 27-year-old environmental policy advocate. Abby grew up singing in four part harmony with her family, and sang in select choirs from an early age. In college Abby spent four years singing popular favorites with her co-ed a cappella group, The Colgate Resolutions. She also enjoys playing guitar, violin and piano. Abby was drawn to Eastern European folk music after a friend introduced her to the Bulgarian State Television Female Vocal Choir; she joined Zemya in 2012.
Ailish Kress is uniting her loves of food, the environment, and working outdoors by apprenticing at Crystal Spring Farm in Brunswick. She has studied music and various languages throughout her life and has always loved singing. She first got involved in a cappella folk singing when her best friend from college convinced her to try singing with Apoichos, a Greek folk singing group in Providence, RI, for which is is very grateful. She is so glad to have found Zemya & loves singing with eight other fun and fabulous ladies.
Constanza Ontaneda was born in New Delhi, India. She moved to Lima, Peru soon after that, and spent part of her childhood living in Sao Paolo and Bucharest, where she began gaining a broader world view and learning languages. She has enjoyed singing since she was a small child, but, apart from three semesters of chorus, this is the first time she is singing in a formal group. Constanza has studied many languages and speaks Spanish, English, French and Portuguese fluently. She is less fluent, but just as passionate about Russian, Mandarin and German. She enjoys reading the Cyrillic version of Zemya’s Bulgarian and Russian songs, and is excited to try out songs in Bengali, Greek and Mandarin. Constanza teaches Spanish at the Semester School in the Chewonki Foundation.
After 30 years in Yarmouth, Ann Swardkick recently moved with her husband to the Big City (Portland), where she’s closer to work and to her daughters. Her life has been filled with travel and music making. She lived for a year in South Africa, another one in Vienna, and has traveled often to Transylvania, all with an ear tuned to the local folk traditions. A writer by trade, Ann works for the Food and Wellness Group in Portland and also freelances. “As much as I love to write, I couldn’t live without singing. Being part of Zemya is a true joy.”