Merla was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada of Swiss/Mennonite descent (née Lehman). She began piano lessons at 2 ½, violin at 4, composition at 9, voice at 11, and viola at 13. When only 3 years old, it was detected she had perfect pitch. By the time she was 15, she was a full-fledged professional musician, having amassed 150 awards and scholarships. She earned a solo performer’s A.R.C.T. from the Royal Conservatory of Toronto in both voice and piano at 16, and an Artist Diploma for viola (violin) in her early twenties. Her string quartet performed weekly on the CBC. She also had a music variety act which she did for many conventions and clubs.
Merv and Merla were married in 1962. They began to perform classical concerts, as well as musical variety acts for service clubs. During this period, Merv was appointed Director of the Christian Performing Arts of Canada. Following this, they both produced the Schoolhouse Concerts, a Christian performing arts concert series in Toronto’s oldest school house, which resulted in the schoolhouse being professionally renovated into an historic site. In 1967, after a powerful experience with the Holy Spirit, they felt the Lord’s call to launch out into fulltime music ministry. Merla writes all the music they sing and play. (She has written almost 500 worship songs, e.g. “Jehovah Jireh”, “Awake, O Israel,” “Then Shall the Virgin Rejoice”, “He That Keepeth Israel” [“Hiney Lo Yanum”]). This ministry was to be entirely on faith, depending upon the Lord for their sustenance.
During the late 60’s and early 70’s, they led the Toronto Catacombs, drawing from 2-3000 young folk per week, among whom was Benny Hinn who came to the Lord. It was developed out of Merv’s high school class. It met in St. Paul’s Cathedral and resulted in hundreds of young folk committing their lives to the Lord, well over 2000 baptized in the makeshift basement tank, and many going into fulltime Christian service in many parts of the world. Following this, they directed "Shekinah,” an international group of Christian musicians, singers, and dancers in presentations in Canada, Holland, the United States, Switzerland, England, and Israel.
Merv and Merla have ministered in over 50 countries, including Israel, which became a home for their family from 1976-88. Here they concieved and spearheaded the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem, as well as the Feast of Tabernacles, an annual event lasting a week, which draws 6000 Christians from 108 different countries. Both these ventures annually produce millions of dollars, which go into the Israeli economy. The Watsons were also the first ones to introduce the Hebraic style of music and choreographed spiritual dance into worship. Now they are majoring on the restoration of the four Biblical Feasts for Christians to celebrate (Trumpets, Tabernacles, Passover, and Pentecost). Together they teach seminars about Israel, Biblical history, and worship in many countries throughout the world. For the last few years, they have been residing near Vancouver in Abbotsford, BC, Canada, where they established a main fellowship and several offshoot fellowships with the name R.O.O.T.S. – an acronym meaning Recycling Of Old Testament Secrets. This work explores the Jewish roots of the Christian faith, using the Hebrew language as its basis both in spoken word and worship. They also were called upon to produce the Biblical Feasts in different countries in the indigenous languages, especially in Berlin, for the Feast of Tabernacles for 4 years. During this time, Merla played in 3 symphony orchestras, and Merv perfected his mural artwork and gave lectures on Jewish roots. Also, while there, Merla formed a Christian professional string quartet called “Serenata”, which played classical concerts, weddings, other social events, and recorded 2 albums, with most of the music arrangements by Merla. Several times they have hosted Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land in a way that only those who have lived in the land could do.
In 2001, Merv and Merla returned to Israel, and actually live again in Jerusalem. Merv functioned again for a while as the Head of the Music Department of the Anglican International School in Jerusalem, where he taught band and orchestra, as well as music theory and music history. Merla assisted him, and also became the house music arranger, as well as a private music teacher in piano, voice, violin, and viola. She has organized a Christian professional string quartet called “Serenata Jerusalem”, which is a sister to the one she leads when in Vancouver. For a time, Merv and Merla led the worship at the oldest Protestant church in the Middle East – Christ Church, in the Old City of Jerusalem at Jaffa Gate. It is an evangelical Charismatic Anglican church, very much steeped in Jewish roots. In Jerusalem, they also minister for conventions, Christian tour groups, and Israeli audiences. This year they will be the creative coordinators for the Feast of Tabernacles sponsored by the International Christian Zionist Center. Recently Merv has been commissioned to write a series of books on anedotal insights on history, archeology and life in Israel. These books will be produced in several languages for world distribution.
On any given concert, Merv and Merla both sing with their trained voices, as well as play violin, viola, guitar, accordion, piano, and small percussive instruments. They always come garbed in colourful Israeli costumes. Merv and Merla have made several CDs, cassettes tapes, songbooks, and other reading materials, which are displayed on their book tables, as well as products for sale from Israel. In between their songs, they both share concerning Israel’s past, current crises, and eventual destiny.
Merla had a bizarre accident in 1986, after a piano fell on her left hand, severely crushing her wrist. Contrary to the top surgeon’s predictions, that she would never play a musical instrument again, she had a phenomenal instantaneous miracle. (Story told in her book “Merla’s Miracle”, which has been translated into several languages.)
Merv and Merla have 3 highly gifted adult children – (2 sons, Sean and Ariel, and a daughter Elana) who are all professional musicians. Sean is a worldclass opera/oratorio singer and recording artist with Naxos. Elana has issued a Hebraic CD called “Awake O Israel”, both in English and in Spanish, as well as another jazz CD “Rising from the Ashes” which has received enthusiastic acclaim everywhere she gives concerts. Recently, she sang 3 concerts of George Gershwin songs with the Toronto Philharmonia, with a standing ovation each time. Ariel is a professional ‘cellist, and has made his own CD “Ariel - Album 1” which features his voice, some of his own compositions, and many instruments, all of which he plays.
Since the Watsons live on the outskirts of Jerusalem, they are able and willing to give accurate accounts about the political scene, which are often quite contrary to the media. Come and hear all about Israel first-hand!
“Indeed an inspiration to our television audience—a real delight!” —–Pat Robertson
“They are quality musicians with quality music.” —Kurt Kaiser
“Joyous spiritual creativity that stirs the senses and lifts the spirit.” —Catherine Marshall
“Their music is delicately woven and precisely executed, impressive and compassionate.” —Credo