Music conductor Merrilee Webb approaches music like a spiritual athlete.Her strong fists impale the air. Her visible cues to singers are sweeping, yet fluid. She flares out her arms to embrace the music.Webb, who lives in Salt Lake City, was conducting a choir during the general Relief Society meeting, as well as concerts by a women's choir, We Also Sing, and a men's choir, Because We Sing. During the Relief Society meeting, Webb motioned the choir with her eyes and fingers as they sang, "Come O Thou King of Kings," the "joyful message that God lives, the fullness of the gospel is restored and Jesus is the Christ," Webb said.Webb has been a guest conductor for the general Relief Society and general Young Women meetings several times since 1997 and once back in 1986. In each instance, there were five rehearsals and a dress rehearsal to get the sisters "(to) sing as if they had been singing together forever," Webb said."I tell them, 'We're not here to sing. We're here to share the joy of the gospel to the world'," Webb said. "This is how I've been doing choirs."Marilyn Lorensen, program director of Mormon Temple Square Performances, said, "Merrilee has a way about her to bring out the best musical talents in people."Webb's stepmother, Velda Webb, said, "She's been able to do magic with music since she was very young." As a 5-year-old tomboy, Merilee Webb loved to practice the piano a lot with the help of her mother, Maurine Webb, who died of cancer in 1987. Webb continued to practice, first playing music at home in Fresno, Calif., and then at small, local church events."My mom and (Velda) sang together at random Relief Society events while I played the piano," Webb said. "We had lots of fun."Because Webb's high school had a shrinking music program, she sought to attend Clovis High School, a trove of musical programs. Webb's school, however, denied her release. Webb then appealed her to the district school board, which granted her release by a 3-2 vote. In high school, the first song she composed, "Waiting for You," had a puppy-love theme.By the age of 16 she had capitalized on her artistic talent by teaching piano lessons, which allowed her to save money for college. At Brigham Young University, Webb changed majors to composition after a brief study in piano performance, earning a bachelor's degree followed by a master's degree in music education with a vocal choral emphasis.During and after her studies, she taught in Utah at middle and high schools in Sandy, Kearns and Bountiful."I wanted the kids who didn't know what they wanted and when they came into the classroom, we made something together," Webb said.Wherever Webb taught, she says, she doubled the choir and formed a male choir that she says affected its members positively. Webb recalls a member of the male choir saying, "Since the nerds, jocks, cowboys and rockers have been singing together, we haven't fought as much."Webb said, "Music speaks to everybody. They knew they were feeling God's love."Webb also toured with the show choir Young Americans in 1994, visiting Germany, England, Australia and most states in the United States. Webb says she used her experience on the road to enhance what she was doing back home, "by tightening up, staging and putting a show together.""Parents saw a direct result. It was more than kids standing on the riser and singing. It was an event," Webb said.In 1983, Webb was a music arranger for Sunshine Generation, a national children's performing group with franchises across the nation. While she was doing arranging, she was recording at Rosewood Studio in Provo, where she learned "the inner workings of a studio that included the engineering aspect." In 1997, she did private studio recording, establishing her own business called Infinity Business Venture. Webb was then asked in 2002 to teach at Brigham Young University-Hawaii."It wasn't convenient to go to Hawaii because I own a business and a home, but the Lord would have me go. I'm a yes to life," Webb said.Webb once again mingled with an international crowd, this time in her own classroom. In one class, Webb said, she had students from 26 different countries, many of which she had never heard of.Ulisese Talataina, a former student of Webb's, said, "It didn't matter if we were from different countries; she told us we were one big ohana, a Hawaiian word meaning family. She shared her 'ha' — meaning all who she is — with us and we with her."Throughout her home, she has reminders of her three-year teaching stint at BYU-Hawaii.Her mailbox is printed with the word "Aloha," Webb's signature greeting. A painting of ancestors looking over their progenitors hangs on the living room wall. On the coffee table is a paper lei with personalized notes written on each of the cutout blossoms — given to her by the choir that sang in the last general Relief Society meeting."I am bringing the 'ha' of everything I've done with my life to others and then I receive other people's 'ha' so it's a part of me," Webb said.
Webb conducting music and sharing 'ha'