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Schoolchildren hold candles near a giant portrait of former South African President Nelson Mandela in Chennai, India. Mandela, who died Thursday at age 95, was considered a master of forgiveness. He became South Africa’s first black president after spending nearly a third of his life as a prisoner of apartheid. (AP Photo/Arun Sankar K)


The annual Conspirare Christmas always finds a way to touch your soul, even when you least expect it.

The choir's artistic director and founder, Craig Hella Johnson, startles you with his gorgeous and unusual arrangements. Surely, he must labor for hours upon hours to figure out just the right sounds for each performance.

How could he possibly know that Nelson Mandela would die on the same day of Conspirare Christmas in Victoria? Of course he couldn't.

Yet, I felt as if two back-to-back songs, "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free" and "By Way of Sorrow," were an intentional and inspired tribute to the great civil rights leader and promoter of peace.

I wasn't familiar before with either song, but they prompted me to quietly reflect on Mandela's legacy.

From "I Wish I Knew:"

I wish I could share / All the love that's in my heart

Remove all the bars / That keep us apart

I wish you could know / What it means to be me

Then you'd see and agree / Everyone should be free

From "By Way of Sorrow;"

You have come by way of sorrow, you have come by way of tears

Bu you'll reach the destiny meant to find you all these years,

Meant to find you all these years.


Nina Simone performs "I Wish I Knew:"

The Wailin' Jennys perform "By Way of Sorrow:"

This is from Ruthie Foster's "Let It Burn" album:

This is from a PBS Conspirare special: