Russian Vancouver Magazine Mar/Apr 1999

Zeellia is a women's professional singing group specializing in eastern European, especially Ukrainian music. Zeellia means herbs, including those used for conjuring magic, and also garden weeds. The name evokes the source of the music in a peasant culture and the magic which occurs in the group's lively and moving performances.

Zeellia recently released their first CD, celebrating with a special concert held September 19 at the Metropolitan Tabernacle. The CD presents traditional and contemporary songs of good wishes, love, work, magic and death. Some of the songs are performed in a traditional way and some in the group's own arrangements.

The group's history and philosophy was summed up in the concert program by it's founder and director Beverly Dobrinsky.

"It has been a long journey to get to this point, Zeellia's premiere CD. Zeellia was founded in the fall of 1991, to honour the centenary of Ukrainian immigration to Canada and to create a musical means of expressing my Ukrainian-Canadian roots. I have spent many summers in rural areas of the Canadian prairies visiting the sons and daughters of the first wave of Ukrainian pioneer immigrants, learning their songs, re-capturing and reviving a once vibrant folk culture that is in danger of extinction. I am proud and honoured to take my place in this lineage, and to be able to contribute directly to the survival of this tradition, attempting to make contemporary sense of it, moving it beyond the ghetto and into the Canadian mainstream."

Zeellia has emerged from what was originally an a cappella ensemble with eight members. Logistical difficulties reduced the group's size to its present four. They have added an accordion plus occasional collaborations with other instrumentalists.

Beverly Dobrinsky has been a member of Vancouver's professional music scene for many years as a performer and composer. She also teaches Kodaly musicianship classes and private singing lessons with children and adults, and is director of the choir at Emily Carr Institute. Carmen Rosen trained in art but has been singing all her life. She is also involved with the theater group "Mortal Coil Performance Society", as is Bessie Wapp, an interdisciplinary performer, involved in music and theater. Marian Rose is well known as a country dance caller, musician and producer. She sings and plays the accordion with Zeellia. For the CD and concert they were joined by: Sandy Fiddes-violin, Mike Hambrook-clarinet, Emry Laird-reeds, dvoyanka, flute, and Melanie Sereda-cello.

Beverly grew up in Winnipeg in a family which came to Canada a century ago. Her relationship with Ukrainian music began with childhood summers in the rural Saskatchewan community, which was her mother's family home. More recently she spent two summers in Northern Alberta and Saskatchewan learning traditional songs from Ukrainian elders. The author-poet Helen Potrebenko was her contact as she traveled to rural communities. There she was welcomed by many older people, some of whom sing in groups for weddings, parties and in church, and others who sing alone. The oldest singer she met was Anna Galah, who, in her mid 80's at the time, had not sung her songs in about twenty years. Beverly recorded them on tape and then transcribed them, returning to the singers when she had questions.

Other songs she has learned from recordings and from people here in Vancouver. Beverly selects material for the group, which she and the other members then arrange. She would also like to publish her entire collection. Not all of the songs are appropriate for performance today, she says, as some are shocking to contemporary sensibilities, expressing the sometimes brutal realities of life. The right context is needed to perform such songs, but the published record should contain the complete texts. Beverly emphasizes the importance of respecting the tradition and of performing the music well.

Although most members of the group are not Ukrainian, they have invested a lot of study and practice in the music and have formed a real relationship with it based on their love for the music and culture. They aim to make this Ukrainian-Canadian music accessible to all Canadians. It is important to realize that "tradition" does not become frozen in a particular time and place, and Zeellia's music, as it continues to develop, represents a real part of Canada's multicultural society. Most important to the audience, however, is simply the fact that the music is performed superbly and tremendously fun to listen to.

Zeellia has performed at the Victoria Folk Festival, Northwest Folklife in Seattle, at festivals in Harrison BC and Port Angeles Washington, as well as on the Gulf Islands, Vancouver Island and in Winnipeg. They sang at the Pysanka festival in Vegreville, Alberta. They hope to tour the prairie provinces next year and would like to go to New York, besides continuing local performances.

The CD, also called "Zeellia" is distributed by Festival Records and should be available in stores. If you don't see it, please ask for it!