Mining the soul

Rita MacNeil is ushering in Red Deer’s Christmas concert season with some good backup — the 26-member The Men of the Deeps chorus.

Rita MacNeil promises a lot of heart-warming

Rita MacNeil is ushering in Red Deer’s Christmas concert season with some good backup — the 26-member The Men of the Deeps chorus.

The world renowned male choir, formed in 1966, continues to be made up exclusively of former miners from Cape Breton who aim to preserve the traditional music and folklore of the Maritimes.

While toiling underground is a hard way to make a living, MacNeil admits, at least it was a living.

Mining is a dying business these days in Atlantic Canada, which might make some question the future of The Men of the Deeps ensemble.

But MacNeil, who is bringing the male chorus along with her Mining the Soul Christmas Concert on Wednesday, Dec. 2, at the Westerner Harvest Centre, is confident the unique group will live on.

“They are determined to keep traditional music going. . . . It would be a shame to lose out, but the younger ones will be taking it up.”

MacNeil expressed great respect for the chorus — and the miners.

Years ago, she visited a closed mine and was greatly affected by the stories she heard while touring its depths. She went on to write the song, Working Man, which first brought her together with The Men of the Deeps.

She’s now been touring with the choir for a decade, off and on. It’s a good combination: the chorus’s working man songs and her own music, which often touches on surviving hard times.

But as this is a Christmas concert, MacNeil promises a lot of heart-warming, inspirational seasonal tunes as well — both her own, such as This Season Will Never Grow Old, and traditional carols — including her personal favourite, Joy to the World.

MacNeil, a multiple Juno Award winner, first started writing music in the early 1971, but didn’t find her audience until a couple of decades later.

In 1990, she sold more records in Canada than Garth Brooks. In 1991, she was invited to play at Royal Albert Hall in England and, in 1992, she was inducted into the Order of Canada.

Her television appearances have broken records, and MacNeil has collected numerous Canadian Country Music Awards and East Coast Music Awards.

The singer, who still comes across as a somewhat shy, down-to-earth person, said she always enjoys touring at Christmas because it opens the door to the whole season for her.

“I’ll be going West, then I’ll be performing in Ontario, then on Dec. 20 I’ll be doing a concert near my home” in Big Pond, Cape Breton.

The mother of two and grandmother of four said she’s looking forward to getting together with her own family at Christmas and hopes her concert will help get other Canadians in the festive spirit.

As for her plans for 2010, MacNeil, who recently recorded a children’s album called A Pocketful of Dreams, said she’s hoping to put out another new album for adults, “if I can find the time to do it” between tours.

Tickets for the 7 p.m. concert are $57.50 from TicketMaster ($55.20 for groups of 20 or more).

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com

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