The Coast 89.7 CKOA-FM

“Outstanding show!!!”
Susan MacLean

“Fabulous show. I have never heard so many people tapping their feet to classical music or the pipe organ!”
Danielle LeVangie

“From the haunting Gregorian Chant of the opening, to the Pie Jesu from Requiem, to Widor's Toccata - all of it exquisite. The Barra MacNeils have broken new ground.”
Wendy Bergfeldt, CBC Radio

“…an outstanding show!”
Linda Campbell MacIver

“…absolutely amazing. A must-see show when it goes on tour!!!”
Eva Stewart

“I can't think of a more wonderful combination than pipe organ and celtic music!”
Sharon Baxter

“A spiritual and emotional stew using the freshest ingredients.”
M. Gordon LaRusic


July 30, 2010
We have unearthed some press and reviews of our inaugural Cathedral show. More shows in the works.

Published April 14, 2010
The Cape Breton Post

Barras star in new production
By DAN MACDONALD, Contributing Writer

I heard lots of great music in the past week. On Saturday night, The Barras took St. Andrews United Church in Sydney by storm! Cathedral is unlike any Barras’ production that you’ve ever seen before, an unusual concept that combined traditional jigs and reels with Gregorian chant, Gaelic presenting, the classical music of Bach and a massive four-ton pipe organ. Sprinkle in music from Styx, Bobby McFerrin, Fred Lavery and Gordie Sampson and you start to get the idea.

Having the premier presentation of this show on their home turf was a brave move by the Barras. What would their family and friends think about a production that was so far from what the public has come to expect? The response from the sold out audience was more then positive, with several standing ovations. Each of the Barras is more then the traditional side that they are most known for, and Cathedral certainly demonstrates this.

The six MacNeil siblings didn’t do this entirely on their own. Their longtime bassist Jamie Gatti also joined them, and they had help from cellist John Spearns and vocalists Meghan and Mikayla Luckie-Taylor. At only 15 years of age, the twins’ singing and show skills are impressive. This was particularly highlighted by their dynamic presentation of the difficult Pie Jesu, a performance that garnered them a well-deserved standing ovation.

This was quite the production, something that took months of planning and hard work to come to fruition. If you saw the show, I’m sure that you have been raving about it to anyone who would listen. If you weren’t there, you missed the show of the year. Catch it whenever and wherever you can.

Dan MacDonald (BA Celtic Studies, Cert. Heritage Studies) is a former Inverness County resident who now resides in the Sydney area. Involved in the Cape Breton music scene for more than 20 years, he operates his own company, Creignish Hills Entertainment. Contact him at creignish_hills@hotmail.com.

Published April 8, 2010
The Chronicle Herald

Barras’ show includes Vivaldi, Styx Cathedral debuts Saturday at Sydney church
By ANDREA NEMETZ Entertainment Reporter

Thu. Apr 8 - 4:54 AM

Surprisingly, early Styx albums lend themselves well to being played on a pipe organ, says Stewart MacNeil.

"They are a huge keyboard band," says MacNeil, who sings and plays accordion, tin whistle, flute, bouzouki and guitar in the multiple East Coast Music Award-winning Cape Breton band The Barra MacNeils. "Their stuff has a real energy around it, particularly the rhythm section, and when the Barras play it, it has a real Celtic feel. The bodhran drives it."

Nevertheless when the Barras take to the stage on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at St. Andrew’s United Church in Sydney, for their new project Cathedral, the show will be far from typical for the musical family group from Sydney Mines. The production spans music from the past millennium, from Vivaldi to Styx, ancient chants to Bobby McFerrin and Bach to traditional, featuring the power of the organ and instruments ranging from penny whistle to pipes. "I think it will appeal to a wide range of people. The music crosses a lot of boundaries," MacNeil says by phone from Cape Breton, where he’s home after returning from a three-week tour that took the family group from Texas to Regina to Whitehorse and B.C.

Cathedral arose from discussions several years ago between Sheumas, who plays keyboards, piano, bodhran, fiddle and bouzouki, and producer Brookes Diamond about the fact Sheumas studied pipe organ at Mount Allison University. "Years went by and it never left Brookes’ mind," says Stewart. "Last year we talked about the idea of putting a show together and we worked on it on and off between touring with Maynard Morrison in a directing capacity." The whole family — Sheumas, Stewart, Kyle on vocals, guitar, violin and mandolin; Lucy on vocals, bodhran, Celtic harp and fiddle; Ryan on keyboards, percussion, uilleann pipes, tin whistle and bodhran; and Boyd on mandolin, fiddle, guitar, banjo and percussion — will be joined by Jamie Gatti on bass and John Spearns on cello as well as 15- year-old twin vocalists Meghan and Mikayla Luckie-Taylor.

While the group is reworking one of its tunes, most of the material will be songs they won’t have performed before. For example, the group has transposed a piece of music by Bach so Irish pipes and flutes could play along. "Playing Bach in church is about as natural as it gets," says Stewart. "Some of the Vivaldi parts were written for the organ, so the setting, a church, is where it would originally have been performed. There are a capella moments which in a church feel really special."

And the Barras plan to perform Bobby McFerrin’s 23rd Psalm. "I’m a huge fan of his music," Stewart says of the singer known for the hit Don’t Worry, Be Happy. "The albums have a lot of multi-layering so it works well with the whole family performing together. The 23rd Psalm is so well written, but there’s a challenge to it and everyone has to dig in."

Cathedral may feel like the Barras’ popular Christmas show to some audience members. "There’s a certain feel or ambience when it’s performed in a church. Something special happens. Aside from the really energetic parts, there are ethereal moments. We really work to create a balance to transcend the musical experience and take people somewhere else."

Stewart says regardless of people’s religious beliefs, they will enjoy the music, which he describes as timeless and awe-inspiring.

And, he notes, there is no such thing as an old organ, just an organ that is not well-maintained. "Both Sheumas and myself took pipe organ lessons at St. Andrew’s from Peter Fraser who is still the organist there. Huge volumes (of music) have been written for the organ, and people don’t hear it." As well, Stewart notes, the organ is a very physical instrument.

"When this organ is opened up to its full volume, it’s incredibly powerful. There’s no amplification, but you can feel the wind rushing through the columns — there’s nothing that can replicate that."

He notes the pulpit in St. Andrews can be removed so people will have a good view of Sheumas playing the organ. The group hopes to tour the project eventually and Stewart is looking forward to the feedback from this first concert. "There’s a stereotype of what a church show can be, but there’s huge potential for a concert of this sort. It’s wonderful music and timeless. We want people to enjoy listening to it as much as we enjoy playing it."

Published March 31, 2010
The Inverness Oran

Cathedral marks a new journey for Barra MacNeils
-by John Gillis

The Barra MacNeils are back home and busy rehearsing for a new musical venture called Cathedral that they plan to debut on April 10th at St. Andrew’s Church in Sydney. “We’ve been working at it and rehearsing for some time now between touring I suppose since last summer,” said Stewart MacNeil in a telephone conversation by phone to The Oran last week. MacNeil and his siblings had just returned from touring in Texas, British Columbia and Whitehorse. The Sydney Mines based band has spent a good portion of each year on the road now for more than twenty years.

“The concept for Cathedral project really began quite a few years back from a conversation between our manager Brooks Diamond and Sheumas. Brookes found out Sheumas played the pipe organ. He had studied it at Mount Allison. Actually, Sheumas and I both took pipe organ lessons from Peter Fraser in Sydney many years ago. We’re looking forward to the debut, and the audience will have the chance to hear quite a range of music – Gaelic music, ancient chants, instrumental music from Vivaldi to Bach and some contemporary hits as well,” said Stewart.

Diamond and The Barras saw tremendous potential in exploring the use of the pipe organ with the array of traditional instruments the Barras have mastered and how moving it would be to experience it all in the magnificence of the great cathedrals of the world.

“We’re very excited about the possibilities of touring with this show and the potential for having special guests. Brookes has learned a tremendous amount from taking DRUM! on the road internationally, and he sees a lot of potential for us with this show,” added Stewart. Stewart is also pleased with the way in which the show has been coming together. “The whole family has been involved, suggesting pieces from many genres that have been lifelong favourites while discovering material that we’d never heard before. The organ certainly adds a powerful new sound, and we’ve been enjoying learning some amazingly interesting music,” Stewart noted.

Ryan and Boyd MacNeil round out the most recent additions to the Barras. They cut their teeth touring internationally for six years or so with the Cape Breton band, Slainte Mhath. “Ryan and Boyd brought a whole new energy to the band. It’s really a pretty exciting time these days (all of the siblings, Kyle, Lucy, Sheumas, himself, Boyd and Ryan are now in the band) and of course our bass player Jamie Gatti has been with us for the past 13 years, so he’s really part of the family too,” said Stewart.

Again, Cathedral will debut at St. Andrew’s United Church, Sydney, on April 10th at 7:30 p.m