If you ever need a choir, call on these roaming Oklahomans

By Dixon Cartwright

BIG SANDY, Texas--If you meet for Sabbath services within 250 miles or so of Tulsa, Okla., and you don't often get to hear special music, you might want to give Ray Kurr a call or shoot him an E-mail.

Members of three Church of God fellowships, including Mr. Kurr, comprise a chorus that travels at least once a month out of town and frequently out of state to make music for the brethren.

The troupe's self-imposed 250-mile limit might soon stretch to the breaking point because the harmonizing Okies have invitations to perform in Michigan and Kenya. That's not Kenya, Okla.; it's the country in East Africa.

Hatching a choir

Mr. Kurr, a 45-year-old native of The Bronx, N.Y., who ended up in Mounds, Okla., married to the former Pam Clement (a card-carrying member of the Pottawatomie Indian tribe), hatched the idea for the choir after a few years of singing solo before Church of God audiences.

"Back when we were attending with the United Church of God, we attempted the concept of having a choir," he said, "but there weren't enough people, and there wasn't enough interest. "But we knew of people in other congregations who would be interested in singing, so we had the idea of forming a choir from people from different groups."

Mr. Kurr had sung solo in other congregations while still regularly attending with United, but that practice became a problem for him because "my loyalty was questioned," he said.

"But several of the ladies kept hounding me about the idea of a choir, so, after several of us began meeting in an independent congregation, we began traveling and singing as a group."

The choir has met formally for practice only for a few months; organized rehearsals began in February 2000.

The way the itinerary has worked out, the singers perform about once a month in congregations mainly in Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas and Texas.

"One of the first ministers who was receptive to us was Karl Beyersdorfer, who pastors the Living Church of God in Joplin, Mo., and Tulsa," said Mr. Kurr. "The Joplin church was extremely receptive to us and has asked us to sing on numerous occasions. We'll be going up there very soon to sing for them for the second time."

Practice, practice, practice

Home base for Mr. Kurr and some of the singers, who have taken the formal name Fellowship Choir Ministries, is the Church of God Tulsa Fellowship, which meets in the residence of one of the choir members, Natalie Andrews, at 1648 E. 45th Pl., in Tulsa.

But they usually practice in the building owned by another independent congregation, the Tulsa Church of God, pastored by Lawrence Gregory. "Lawrence has been very supportive," said Mr. Kurr.

Several choir members are members of the Tulsa Church of God.

The singers have performed several times at the Church of God Big Sandy, which is why Mr. Kurr was here when The Journal interviewed him Dec. 24. At that time the Big Sandy church was sponsoring its annual Family Fellowship Weekend.

The Tulsa choir has also performed for the Church of God congregation pastored by Art Hulet in Perry, Okla., and for a campaign conducted by the Christian Leadership Academy of Hot Springs, Ark., in Tulsa. It sang for two Church of God-related conferences recently in Dallas, Texas, and Tulsa.

Mr. Kurr--who with his wife, three teenage daughters (Brandi, Bridget and Brittney) and son (Raymond, 12) operates a 25-year-old window-cleaning business in the Tulsa area--attended Ambassador College in the 1970s, where he sang with the Young Ambassadors and met his wife-to-be, a Tulsa native.

Singing with style

The choir, whose mission, says Mr. Kurr, is to "sing and serve," vocalizes a variety of styles, from Dwight Armstrong ditties to "sacred" to Christian contemporary to toe-tapping gospel to choruses from Messiah.

"We haven't done any southern gospel," said Mr. Kurr. "It's more contemporary gospel, and we're working on 'The King of Love My Shepherd Is' and 'Hallelujah Chorus.'

"We also take songs from hymn books, give them our own flair of interpretation and do them a cappella."

The choir does a lot of a cappella because it doesn't have a piano player, but that hasn't slowed it down. Choir members sing pieces that won't work a cappella to the accompaniment of CD-quality digitized music, some of which Mr. Kurr produces himself on music and computer keyboards and synthesizer.

"We're also working on a CD that we can send to people that will offer an example of what we do," he said. "It will probably be ready by the spring holy days."

Problem solved

The choir had a problem with transportation. But, thanks to an unexpected cash donation, Fellowship Choir Ministries owns a 1991 Dodge van that can transport 12 choir members on trips in and out of town.

Making music is fun, said Mr. Kurr, who sings tenor and can play seven instruments. But the best part of performing is "singing at a church where they haven't had live special music for a year. They're so appreciative and so thankful that we could come, and they want us to come back as often as we can. They're inspired. That's probably the most gratifying aspect of having the choir."

The Journal asked Mr. Kurr what has been the group's most unusual gig.

"Well, it was when we performed for the Worldwide [Church of God] congregation in Tulsa. I noticed that the choir was kind of jiving. I looked over my shoulder and, lo and behold, people were dancing in the aisles. That was interesting."

Mr. Kurr said the choir has prompted that reaction only that one time, that the choir has no Pentecostal tendencies. He speculated that dancing during special music may be customary in the Tulsa WCG.

Strange-sounding names

Two recent invitations to sing came from people in faraway places. One was from Sidney Davis of North Chicago, Ill., an elder in the Seventh-day Adventist Church who invited the troupe up to his area to sing.

Mr. Kurr responded to Dr. Davis's offer that the choir could probably not afford to embark on that ambitious a trek. Dr. Davis, in turn, remarked that his congregation would be happy to foot the bill for the choir's expenses.

The other was an offer from Pastor Joseph Kimani, who heard the Tulsans sing while he was on a tour of America to drum up support for his ministry in Kenya (see "Kenyan Pastor Visits American Sabbatarians," The Journal, Sept. 30).

"I don't see how we could ever go to Africa," said Mr. Kurr. "But it was a nice thought."

Who's who

The roaming vocalists, all from the Tulsa area, are David Andrews, Evie Andrews, Jamie Andrews, Natalie Andrews (who also serves as secretary), Marsha Basner, Tammie Coleman, Diana Davis (who doesn't ordinarily attend church anywhere and is the only choir member without a Church of God background), Carolyn Foreman, Fran Hope, Maxine Kappel, Brittney Kurr, Mr. Kurr, Reg Noland, Derinda Smith, Lucille Smith, Sheila Talley and Lila Warner.

Nonsinging members of Fellowship Choir Ministries include David Hope, who drives the van; Pam Kurr, who serves as treasurer; and Mike Smith, who mans the sound equipment.

For more information about Fellowship Choir Ministries, write Mr. Kurr at P.M.B. 333, 8177 S. Harvard, Tulsa, Okla. 74137, U.S.A., or Or telephone him at (918) 827-4599.

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