By Alexandra Pecci
---- — When Greg Chastain was a kid, he logged a lot of miles in his mom’s car in the name of theater. His mom, Barbara Byrd, drove him everywhere, from music camps to theatrical auditions all over the Midwest, where he grew up.
“My mom was kind of my champion to do theater,” Chastain remembers.
In 2009, his mom lost her battle with pancreatic cancer, a week before the opening of a local production of “Aida,” in which Chastain was cast.
Chastain pulled out of the show, but not away from theater. Instead of retreating from the people and things he loved, Chastain used theater and music as an outlet to channel his grief.
He and some theater friends rallied together to produce a stage show to raise money for cancer research.
“What better way to remember my mom than doing a show? Because she loved watching me perform,” Chastain says.
That first show raised $17,000, and Chastain’s efforts have blossomed into Voices of Hope, a
Boston-based charity organization that uses music and theater performances to raise money and awareness for cancer and cancer research. Since its founding three years ago, Voices of Hope has raised more than $130,000 for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and has performed everywhere from Fenway Park to Gillette Stadium.
This year, more than 100 singers from Andover will be lending their voices to the fundraising effort, too. Andover High School’s show choirs and chamber choir will be performing at Voices of Hope’s fourth Annual Fall Gala at Boston’s Jordan Hall.
“I really like the message behind the organization,” Mark Mercer, director of vocal music for the Andover middle and high schools. “Their vision and their mission statement is about finding a cure that will protect the youth of tomorrow.”
Mercer says the students from Andover will perform in three numbers, with one performance each from the chamber and show choirs. They’ll also sing “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” with the entire Voices of Hope company.
Mercer says that the choirs from Andover High School perform and compete often, and are very excited to appear at Jordan Hall.
“It’s a great opportunity for them to be involved in performing at a wonderful facility,” says Mercer.
The show will include 185 performers altogether, including the Andover choirs, members in the Voices of Hope group, and the orchestra. The gala will get a little extra star power, too, in the form of special guests Livingston Taylor, WMJX’s Candy O’Terry, and master of ceremonies Jordan Rich of WBZ News Radio 1030.
A silent auction, featuring donations from the Red Sox, Patriots, a guitar signed by Aerosmith’s Joe Perry, a vacation rental, and other items will kick off the evening.
This year, the money raised from the event will benefit the new Henri and Belinda Termeer Center for Targeted Therapies at the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center.
Although there will be remembrances of loved ones who’ve been touched by and have fought cancer, Chastain emphasizes the word “hope” in his organization’s name. What started as a way for a son to grieve has become a celebration, with lively, fun, and energetic performances. Celebrating hope and life in the face of tragedy seems a fitting tribute to Chastain’s mother.
“She was always upbeat even though she was in a lot of pain,” Chastain says of his mother, and the work he’s doing in her memory is no different. “It’s an uplifting show.”
If you go: What: Voices of Hope's 4th Annual Fall Gala. Where: Jordan Hall, 30 Gainsborough St., Boston. When: Saturday, September 15; silent auction at 7 p.m.; performance at 8 p.m. How: Tickets are $37 to $67. Visit voicesofhopeboston.org or call theJordan Hall box office at 617-585-1260.