Winnipeg gospel choir backs up Heart on MTS stage

Who doesn't love to sing along to Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven?"

The World Village Gospel Choir was invited to join Heart on Stairway to Heaven

World Village Gospel Choir on stage with guitarist Nancy Wilson and singer Ann Wilson of Heart (Neil Weisensel)

Who doesn't love to sing along to Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven?" Well what if you got the chance to sing that song on the MTS stage along with the legendary rock band Heart? That's what happened to the World Village Gospel Choir on June 22.

"It was unbelievable, off the charts!" effused Neil Weisensel who co-directs the choir with his wife Rachel Landrecht

Weisensel received an invitation via email to perform with Heart from Pat Wright, who leads the Total Expression Gospel Choir in Seattle and is a friend of Nancy and Ann Wilson of the band. Weisensel thought the invitation was a hoax. But Landrecht confirmed that Heart was indeed scheduled to perform in Winnipeg on June 22, so the project got under way.

The idea started after a Kennedy Center Honors concert in December, 2012, in tribute to Led Zeppelin. Members of the original band as well as the Obamas were in the audience for that landmark show. Joining Heart for "Stairway to Heaven" was drummer Jason Bonham, son of Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, and a gospel choir. The performance was such a success, the Wilson sisters and Bonham decided to take it on the road and hire a gospel choir in each city.

Landrecht and Weisensel were asked to select nine singers from the choir for the performance and they were given music and a practice track three weeks in advance. 

On concert day, the choir rehearsed backstage for two hours with Wright and her accompanist, learning dance moves as well.

"Pat is just like a goddess of gospel, she is just amazing. She is a force of nature," said Weisensel. He said she was incredibly encouraging and complimentary, saying this was the best gospel choir she had worked with so far.

The choir didn't actually get to perform with Heart until the actual concert. "Stairway to Heaven" was the final -- and most anticipated -- song of the evening. The music started, the singers entered the stage, took their places, and started to sing.

"It was electrifying," said Weisensel. He said just as the choir started to sing, Ann and Nancy Wilson turned around to look at the choir, then opened their arms in a gesture of praise.

"Pat said they never do that. I get goosebumps just telling that story," he said.

As well, among the members of the choir happened to be a super-fan, Maggie Thiessen. She and her sister, who are the exact same age difference as Ann and Nancy Wilson, used to sing their music and even dressed up as Heart. It was Maggie's life-long dream to sing with the duo.

Weisensel says she even brought a photo of herself with her sister to the concert for the Wilsons to sign. "It felt so great to help make somebody's dream come true," he said.

The Heart concert was a high point in a weekend of highlights. On June 21 the World Village Gospel Choir performed on the Scotiabank Stage at The Forks as part of National Aboriginal Day and on June 23, Weisensel's arrangements will be performed by Ray St. Germain and the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra at the Club Regent Event Centre in the Music of Aboriginal  Manitoba celebration.