For over a dozen years, Whitney Permann, Soni Muller and Brooke Stone have been offering inspiration, life encouragement and hope to countless friends and fans as part of the vocal group Mercy River, all while juggling their own growing families — a feat that’s been far from easy but beyond worth it.
It all started after the women joined the Jenny Phillips Choir more than a decade ago. Each with their own reason for joining the Utah-based chorus, the trio were eventually pulled together.
“Jenny approached Whitney Permann, Brooke Stone and I, and said she thought our voices could blend well for a trio,” said Muller in a press release for an upcoming Utah County engagement. “We didn’t really know each other, but we all said ‘yes’ and have become more than friends. We are more like sisters.”
Permann remembers initially hearing about creating a smaller female vocal group from the Jenny Phillips Choir and immediately knowing it was not something she’d enjoy doing. Then she was asked to audition for it.
“I was pretty hesitant about it,” Permann said. “I had never sought something like this out before. It was not something I pursued, but just kind of landed in my lap. When the opportunity came, I thought, ‘I guess I can try it out.’ Then the chemistry between the three of us was just really magical — both sound and personalities — especially with three women. You kind of have to have the right kind of personalities to make it work. We just have the right mix, and are just like sisters.”
That chemistry is what Permann said has created such a lasting connection that has endured multiple familial changes and growth, an inter-state move for Permann and an incredible amount of national and international performances.
It’s also why, as family life has become more demanding, the trio are saying “goodbye for now” to performing together with a pair of concerts set for this weekend at the SCERA Center for the Arts in Orem.
“I would just for sure want people to know that we’re taking a break — that we’re not done,” Permann said of the shows. “We’re just in the thick of teenagers right now, and it’s harder to leave home. It’s funny because we thought it was so hard to leave home when they were little, and thought it would be easier when they were older. Nope. Surprise! It’s much harder when older, and we’re missing all their things. That’s basically the motivation. The time with teenagers, every older mother tells me it goes so fast. We need to listen to that and make sure we’re really present where we need to be right now.
“We’re just gonna pause for a second, get our teenagers raised and keep them out of jail, then we will jump right back in,” Permann joked. “It really is a hard decision to come to, but it feels so good. So good.”
Through the years, the women have overcome the challenges of juggling family, spiritual commitments and physical distance to keep the music alive, and the break isn’t something they take lightly.
“Music has always been a part of my life, but I didn’t anticipate that it would turn into a ministry,” Permann said of becoming a part of Mercy River. “I started using it to serve and to share messages of hope and faith instead of just something personal like a hobby, it became kind of a ministry.”
That included an ample amount of touring, especially in conjunction with Deseret Book’s Time Out for Women program, where artists and speakers would perform in roughly 20 cities over the span of a long weekend, adding up to a lot of performances pretty quickly.
“The most enjoyable part of the experience is staying after the concert to hear members of the audience share their stories and share conversations,” Mullen said of the experience.
“Music really is one of the biggest ways that we feel and so it’s a really useful, helpful tool,” Permann explained of the juxtaposition of Mercy River’s music with such motivational and spiritual events. “We’ve really enjoyed meeting women around the country and hearing their stories. A lot of women will share their heartaches with us and their struggles and their journeys, and say how music, our music and other music, has helped them, so it’s just been really neat to meet so many women and hear their stories of courage, you know, just really inspiring.”
As to how they’ve been able to connect with so many individuals throughout the years, Permann said the answer was easy.
“I just realized that people enjoyed it because we are just like them,” she said. “I realized really quickly that women related to us because we’re in the same situation — we’re just normal moms trying to figure out what to make for dinner and how to be like Jesus. But we did find this instant connection with our audience because we didn’t try to pretend to be anything we’re not. We shared our struggles and were vulnerable with audiences, and learned so much from them.”
Rather than a farewell of any kind, Permann said the SCERA shows are a way of letting people know if they want to see the group in concert, this may be the last time for awhile.
With tickets selling out quickly and the second show added due to popular demand, Permann described the upcoming concerts as perfect for “anyone who wants an uplifting, enjoyable night; anyone who loves fun, family-friendly entertainment.”
“Our concerts are designed to inspire and illuminate ideas, but they are also a lot of fun for both us and our audiences,” Muller said of the shows.
After taking to social media to chat with fans about their favorite Mercy River songs, Permann said people can expect “a concert of fan favorites — just kind of celebrating all the music throughout the years and what has really resonated most.”
They’ll also continue connecting with fans via social media during their impending concert hiatus, as well as connecting with each other.
“We grew up together basically,” Permann said. “Thankfully we can still talk every day on the phone if we want. There are a lot of ways to connect, and for sure we will miss performing together, but time just goes so fast. I don’t think I’ll be sitting at home so sad, because I have so much to do.”
And when the time comes to pick up performing once again, Permann said she’ll be ready to say, “OK.”