Men of the DeepsDate: Sun, Jun 19 2016
June 19, 2016 3 p.m.
The Men of the Deeps is a choir of working and retired coal miners from the island of Cape Breton in Nova Scotia, Canada. Organized in 1966 as part of Cape Breton’s contribution to Canada’s Centennial Year (1967), the group’s inception was an effort by the people of Cape Breton to preserve in song some of the rich folklore of that island’s coal mining communities.
Since 1967 the group has been singing of the work and lifestyle of the Cape Breton coal miner to audiences throughout most of Canada and the United States. In 1976 they became the first Canadian performing group to tour the People’s Republic of China after diplomatic relations between the two nations were restored in 1972. In September 1999 the men traveled to Kosovo in the former Republic of Yugoslavia at the request of Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs, where they performed in a gala festival organized by actress Vanessa Redgrave on behalf of the United Nations Children’s Fund. The group’s most recent tours have brought the choir as far north as the Ekati diamond mines in the Northwest Territories, and as far south as Arizona, Alabama, Florida and the Appalachian coal mining communities of Kentucky, Virginia and Pennsylvania. In September 2008 the group was invited to perform in Las Vegas at the international MineExpo conference where sold out audiences enjoyed its unique blend of songs and stories for six consecutive nights.
The musical repertoire of the Men of the Deeps is gathered from mining communities around the world. Many of the group’s songs are “home grown” – composed by contemporary Cape Breton bards, or traditional songs which trace their roots to their Celtic fore bearers in the old country. Professor O’Donnell has become an expert on coal mining songs in Canada, and published a major collection entitled And Now The Fields Are Green: A Collection of Coal Mining Songs in Canada (Sydney, Nova Scotia; University College of Cape Breton Press: 1992).
To belong to the singing group a man must have worked in the mine. The ages of the men range from the mid-thirties to the upper-seventies, about one-quarter of which have been with the group since it was organized in 1966. A special sense of authenticity is given to the group by the presence of several retired coal miners who recall vividly the days when coal miners were looked upon as “second class” citizens, forced to eke out a living mining coal in hazardous conditions while their lives were almost entirely dependent upon the company.
Today the Men of the Deeps are more than a singing group – it is a social institution. There is a comradery amongst the members of the group that carries over to their audiences wherever they perform. Clad in coveralls and hard hats, they make an impressive impact when they enter a concert hall in total darkness with only the lamps on their helmets for light.