Anna Dembska leads the Schoodic Summer Chorus, something she has done since the group formed in 2002. SCHOODIC ARTS FOR ALL PHOTO

Power of singing: Chorus director Anna Dembska to step down

WINTER HARBOR — The 20th season of the Schoodic Summer Chorus is about to begin and with that milestone comes another one. It will be the last season that founding director, composer, soprano and teacher Anna Dembska will lead the group.

The chorus first formed in 2002, when Dembska was spending her summers in Hancock and teaching singing lessons.

“My students asked me to do it,” she reminisced with a laugh about how the decision to start a chorus came about.

Schoodic Arts for All, the community arts organization based in Winter Harbor, was in its early years and decided to take the chorus on as one of its programs.

Since 2009, when Dembska moved to Camden to live in Maine full time, she has been commuting two hours in the summers to direct the chorus. But now, Dembska said it’s time to take a break from the long drive.

The chorus has welcomed new and returning students of all levels throughout its two decades and has performed an assortment of pieces. It meets for rehearsals in the spring and then performs at the annual Schoodic Arts Festival.

“We’ve always done a really wide variety of different kinds of music,” Dembska said, which fits in nicely with this season’s theme of “transformation.”

“The idea is … that we’re transformed by the world around us,” she explained, adding that music can inspire transformations that can start internally and then lead to political and social changes.

Upcoming musical selections include songs from the Italian Renaissance, Haiti and “a beautiful Ukrainian lullaby.”

“My goal has always been to … introduce people to music they probably wouldn’t normally hear,” Dembska said. “It’s a wonderful way to get introduced to music. That’s been one of the most important things for me.”

The group performs a cappella — without any musical accompaniment — something Dembska said can be a musically challenging.

Most community choruses have a piano “that singers can lean on,” Dembska explained. But even though depending solely on the human voice can be demanding, “I think [it’s] more rewarding for the singers, too.”

The first rehearsal of the season is May 24.

“It’s totally open to anyone who wants to join,” Dembska said, and she encourages folks to sign up on the Schoodic Arts for All website ahead of the first rehearsal.

Dembska has been teaching voice, musicianship and performance techniques for over 25 years. Her knowledge is extensive, as evidenced by the two books she has written, “You’ve Got Rhythm: Read Music Better by Feeling the Beat” (Flying Leap Music, 2002) and “Piano, Body and Soul” (Flying Leap Music, 2006), which she co-authored with Joan Harkness.

She has taught at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts Experimental Wing, the Metropolitan Opera Guild’s In-School Program and National Teacher Training and Brooklyn College’s Conservatory Prep. Division.

Dembska also composed an opera for the Stonington Opera House in 2005 and when the pandemic threw a wrench into musical gatherings, began composing music that could be sung via Zoom. The compositions took into the account the platform’s often frustrating time delays.

“I started thinking about how we could keep singing in some way,” Dembska said. Her online group brought singers together from coast to coast.

Rebecca Alley

Rebecca Alley

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
Rebecca is the Schoodic-area reporter and covers the towns of Eastbrook, Franklin, Hancock, Lamoine, Sorrento, Sullivan, Waltham, Winter Harbor and Trenton. She lives in Ellsworth with her husband and baby boy who was joyously welcomed in June 2020. Feel free to send tips and story ideas to [email protected]