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The City Journals

Singers from Sandy open the Christmas season in tabernacle concerts

Dec 10, 2018 04:19PM ● By Heather Lawrence

The We Also Sing Choir reunites intermittently and has performed in the Salt Lake Tabernacle and Assembly Hall. (Photo courtesy of Carol Mehr)

By Heather Lawrence | [email protected]

Merrilee Webb, founder and director of the We Also Sing Women’s Choir, loves to teach music. The current iteration of her volunteer choir, which included many Sandy area residents, opened the Christmas season at Temple Square with 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. concerts on Nov. 24.

The nearly 300-voice choir is made up of women from all over Utah. Having rehearsed weekly in either Taylorsville or St. George since September, the choirs met together for the first time the day of their concerts and sang 10 songs, all to live instrumentation with professional musicians. 

Of the choir experience Webb said, “Women are so good at putting other people first. They are caregivers for friends and family, they give of themselves at work and in the community. They need a place to take care of themselves and nurture their interests.”  

Webb came up with the idea for We Also Sing several years ago. She loved the idea of having a place where women do something that’s “just for them.”

The concerts both began with the song “Christmas Is Coming” as arranged by Mack Wilberg. Then they moved on to well-known Christmas anthems such as “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” (arr. Forrest) and a tender arrangement by Webb of “Once in Royal David’s City.”

There were lesser-known songs like “All Is Well” (Smith) and “In the First Light” (Kauflin), and a gospel arrangement of Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus (Chinn). They also included an audience participation number “And Christmas” (Tinney/DeHaan) and a choral arrangement of the pop song “Grown-Up Christmas List” (Foster/Jenner).

The tabernacle is, acoustically speaking, a large choir’s dream come true. Webb kept the performance space in mind during rehearsals, reminding the choir how sound there would work. When holding certain notes and then cutting-off, she’d say, “In the tabernacle, this note will ring forever, and it will be beautiful.”

Taking time to rehearse and sing reminds many women of their deep love of music, which is healing and restorative. Webb frequently also hears from the men whose wives have participated; they are happy their partners take this time for themselves. 

One reason for the high retention (and recruitment) rate since the choir was founded over a decade ago is perhaps due to Webb’s philosophy. She explained that rehearsals — which are two hours long and dappled with humor, insights on faith and high choral expectations — are equally as important as the concert. 

“In this group, rehearsals aren’t just a means to an end in the form of a concert. I don’t know what people left to come to practice each week, and I don’t know what they’ll go back home to, but for two hours they can be engaged and be here. It’s a gift to be able to do that,” Webb said. 

Choir members, like Julie Sanford of the Sandy area, expressed weekly their gratitude for the opportunity to rehearse under Webb’s direction. 

“I am so grateful for the opportunity to sing every Saturday morning in this spectacular choir. Merrilee Webb is our driving force of faith, talent, choral knowledge and humor. She directs and teaches us to sing with the angels as we welcome the Christmas season,” Sanford said. 

A great benefit of the choir is its inclusive nature. There is no audition, and it is not exclusive to a particular religious denomination. Over the years, choir members such as Sanford have recruited others in their circle to join. “My son, daughter, niece and neighbors have all sung with Merrilee’s choirs. We are better people because of it!”

Maryanne Coke, another choir member from Sandy, shared how music helped her heal. “I love the language of music. I discovered the We Also Sing choir about seven years ago, when I was going through intense difficulty. As I attended rehearsals, I gained perspective from Merrilee’s thoughts, encouraging words and the music. I still do. It is a rare privilege to sing in this choir and experience the oneness I feel with everyone,” Coke said. 

Webb has a long history with many of the women who sang with her. During her career, she’s taught at Indian Hills Middle School, Bountiful High School, BYU Hawaii and until December 2018 Dixie State University. Former students of hers are always in the choir. 

Sanford summed up the takeaway from the rehearsals and concerts: “Music is truly a universal language we all hear and feel. Thanks to all who sacrifice their time to make this choir happen,” Sanford said. 

*Editorial note: After years of prodding from her friends, this was the writer’s first time singing in the choir.