Choirs for Hope a Moving and Memorable Event


Choirs for Hope, held on May 5, 2018, was an evening filled with choral music and hope for people touched by cancer. Organized by Bryan MacKay (centre) and Diana Hannaford-Wilcox, the Choir Director at St. Paul’s United Church (left), the event raised $10,372.17 for the Northern Cancer Fund to ensure exceptional cancer care can continue to be offered to patients here in Northwestern Ontario. Gratefully accepting the donation is Elaine Graydon, Manager, Special Events, Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Foundation.

By Heather Vita - July 11, 2018

Picture this, if you will. It’s evening in early May.  The warmth of the day is ebbing. A light breeze plays through the early flowers poking their heads out of the ground. Birds are chirping, awakening and drinking in the return of Spring.

Inside a quiet church, people have gathered for a special performance. Just as Spring has brought hope after a long winter, this performance has brought hope to those who’ve been touched by cancer. For over the course of the evening, over 200 people will have performed choral numbers, chosen specifically to uplift and inspire those who were present to witness their performance.

‘Choirs for Hope’, held on May 5 at St. Paul’s United Church, was the idea of Bryan MacKay, a father who lost his son Kol to brain cancer in 2016. “During Kol’s treatment, we always talked about hope and we had a very positive attitude,” he said. “Even on really tough days, we focused on having hope – it was the one thing that kept us going.”

Kol was a singer and music was a huge part of his life. Bryan knew he wanted to do something to honour Kol’s memory, who he was and to share how powerful hope can be. “It took me awhile to formulate the idea and really get going on it,” he recalled, “but once I started, it came to life so well thanks to the belief by so many people that it could be done.”

One person in particular who was instrumental in bringing ‘Choirs for Hope’ to life was Diana Hannaford-Wilcox, the Choir Director at St. Paul’s United Church. “Diana was wonderful,” enthused Bryan. “When I first talked to her about the idea, she was so supportive. Being a cancer survivor herself she understood the power that hope can have and her love and passion for choral music was evident from the start. She knew all about choirs and how to get in touch with them; something I knew nothing about. And throughout the whole process, she was absolutely incredible in making sure that everything came together as it should.”

Added Bryan, “Once we started reaching out to local choirs to see if they’d be interested in performing, the response was overwhelming. They enthusiastically agreed and devoted practices specifically to the songs they would eventually perform on May 5. Altogether 7 choirs performed 2 songs each, including the ‘Courage Chorus’, which was made up of people that were not regular choir members but who were very interested in being part of the event. At the conclusion of the evening, all the choirs came together to sing 2 songs and were given a beautiful backdrop by the audience who were all holding tea lights.”

“Our goal for the evening,” continued Bryan, “was to find a powerful way to get the message of hope out to as many people as possible. Songs of hope and inspiration were sung by the choirs, and we also chose to feature stories of those who were cancer survivors as well. We wanted to make sure people knew they were not alone, that there are so many who survive and thrive following a cancer diagnosis.”

“The evening really couldn’t have gone any better in my eyes,” said Bryan. “The feedback we received was fantastic; people were so moved. Beyond the incredible feeling of the evening, we also wanted to be sure we could raise funds for the Cancer Centre and we asked for donations at the door,” said Bryan. “The staff there is so compassionate. They always treated Kol so well and always spoke with him on a first-name basis. I cannot imagine being treated better anywhere than what we experienced here and I’m really humbled by the amount we were able to raise for the Northern Cancer Fund ($10,372.17) to ensure the type of care we experienced can be continued for future patients.”

With the event wrapped up, Bryan and Diana are looking to the future but aren’t quite sure what event is next on the agenda, but they know that music and hope will be a part of it.

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