They’re all coal miners – active or retired – on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. They sing of their lives. Dressed in overalls, they walk onstage in the dark, their way lit only by the lamps of their helmets.
I’ve never known this life of heat, claustrophobia and exhaustion. Teaching exercises the mind, not the biceps. And the classroom isn’t a health hazard. Conditions in the mine, however, often led to “black lung”:
I have it very bad. My dad died of it actually and I can barely walk up the stairs or anything because it really stops me from any physical activity at all.
The Men of the Deeps sing many songs of the miner’s life. My favourite is Working Man:
It’s a working man l am
And I’ve been down under ground
And I swear to God if l ever see the sun
Or for any length of time
I can hold it in my mind
I never again will go down under ground
In the dark recess of the mines
Where you age before your time
And the coal dust lies heavy on your lungs
The choir’s director captures the impact that these men have:
When you look out from the stage and see grown men crying, you realize that our story in this small corner of the world is not only our story – you could take this story to England, to West Virginia, to Saskatchewan. There are coal mines all over the world and that makes our story relatable.
I pray that audiences continue to relate to these working men, and to anyone who suffers in body and mind to feed their family.