Things I Learned from Thurlow Spurr

This year I am participating in a huge Christmas performance as a member of the 300-voice Michigan/Ohio choir, part of the ministry of Concert Ministries International. Although I love to sing and have been a choir director for years, I joined the CMI choir because I wanted to experience the leadership of a seasoned choir director. I have not been disappointed. Thurlow Spurr really knows his stuff.

This past weekend we were assigned our places on the risers. I’m in the top row, far right. As we positioned ourselves, Thurlow and his wife, Kathey, gave us instructions which I soon realized could actually apply to life in general. Here’s what they told us:

1.  Find your window (so you can see the director and the stage clearly). – From the top riser, I had a clear view of everybody else’s heads. Hmmmm, does she color her hair? Wow, I love that style. Oops, didn’t realize he’s bald in back . . . I had to check myself, because it was tempting to watch the dancers in front and lose sight of the director. The directors didn’t move to make themselves visible to each of us. We had to position ourselves so we could see them. In life, it’s vital that we take our eyes off anyone and anything that can distract us. God will make sure we have a “window” so we can always see Him. However, we have to intentionally change our position so we have a clear view of the One who remains constant.

2. Fill your space (with song). – After I discovered my “window,” I realized that I had a lot of space to fill. When Thurlow directed us to “fill your space with song” I found myself stepping up to do exactly that. It was a big space, I discovered, and I tried to put as much into it as I could. In 1998, Lynda Ellis wrote a poem called The Dash, referring to the dash (-) on a tombstone placed between the year of birth and the year of death. The dash represents what happens between the time we are born and the time we die. That’s our space. We need to fill our space with song, joy, laughter, encouragement. God gives us a big space to fill, but He also equips us to fill it. Put a lot into it and fill your space!

3. Know who’s standing next to you (because you’ll be standing next to them for a long time). As I looked at the altos to my right and to my left, I realized that I had been practicing with them for ten months but I hadn’t taken the time to learn their names. We were just three members of the alto section. However, now that we were designated a place on the risers, we became altos on assignment. In life, we are more than just members blending into the human race. We are individuals on assignment. Besides that, if I forget my place on the risers, I just have to look for Nancy and Meredith and stand between them. Get acquainted with your team. They’ll keep you in place.

4. Look like what you are singing (In other words, happy song, happy face). In Act I, we’re singing some pretty poppin’ songs, like “Boogie-Woogie Santa” and “North Pole Rock & Roll.” I confess that we’ve practiced these songs so many times, I’m often on “automatic” when I sing. My body is present but my mind is elsewhere. Unfortunately, our faces reflect what’s going on in our minds–and the looks on our faces can detract from the message. The Apostle Paul said, “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord” (Romans 12:11).  We should never slip into “automatic.” Let’s keep our excitement for life!

5. Don’t sing with the soloists (so they can shine in their moment in the spotlight). The Bible instructs us to honor and prefer other people above ourselves, considering them better than us. This scripture goes against every grain of my flesh. I want to shine, too. Why do they get to be in the spotlight? It’s very tempting to sing along with them–but why? Our soloists have incredible voices. They’ve practiced hard and they deserve their moment at the mic. Singing along is distracting to them and to the audience. The reality is that if we will polish someone else’s silver, they will reflect back on us. The more we polish them, the brighter the reflection and the better we’ll all look. I WANT the soloists to do great because it will reflect on the whole choir. And, the choir needs to do well because it will reflect on Thurlow and Kathey. Let’s polish each other so we can ALL shine.

Being involved with CMI has been a great experience. I haven’t just receive lessons in choir directing. I’ve gleaned some great stuff for life. Thanks, Thurlow & Kathey.

[By the way, visit and plan to attend one of the six performances. Look for me on the risers – top row, far right.]