#313 – Dick Bernard: Old Music and Family History

Last night we attended the Minnesota Orchestra, where we’ve had season tickets for many years.
I’m a fan of classical music, but not a particularly well-informed one. Before we left home, Cathy asked “what are we seeing tonight?“, and I said “I don’t know.” The ticket wasn’t helpful: “Symphony and Song” is all it said.
The program turned out to be a delightful potpourri of all-Mozart, including the always outstanding Minnesota Chorale.
I never tire of Mozart-anything. One of the pieces played, Veni Sancte Spiritus, was composed by Mozart when he was twelve years old! (That was about the age when I first became a terminally resistant pianist. It took a while for me to get around to truly appreciating music. I got a D in Music Appreciation in college….)
But, January 16 was a delightful evening, as evenings at “long-hair” music events almost always are for me.
This particular night, for some reason, I fixed on Wolfgang Amade Mozart’s biography: born January 27, 1756 in Salzburg; died December 5, 1791, Vienna. His was a short, intense and extraordinarily productive life. Apparently the music never went out in his head.
1756, his birth year, had a particular attraction this night.
It was about 1757, when Mozart was a year old, that my last French-Canadian ancestor, Francois Collet, came across the big pond from Bretagne (Brittany) to Quebec. (The first known ancestor in North America was Jean Nicolet in 1618.)
Two years after Francois Collet arrived, the English defeated the French at the Plains of Abraham and Quebec became part of the British empire.
Sixteen years later came the American Revolution; and fourteen years after that the French Revolution of 1789 (Les Miserables, and all that).
In 1791, at the ripe old age of 35, Mozart died. In 1805, Francois Collet died in Quebec at the age of about 64, and life went on for families left behind: one with a famous descendant; the second whose story lives on in his surname (now spelled Collette) and many descendants, one of which is me, 7th generation downline.
As one of our families historians, I know that the history of all families, most especially ‘ordinary’ ones, are full of blank spaces, many of those spaces never to be filled. Indeed some of those blank spaces are intentional…”know all, tell some”…we all have our share of secrets….
All we know is that we descended from an almost infinitely long line of predecessors who left us with certain pieces of their abilities or disabilities. We are a sum of many parts.
During intermission I continued to read the program and came across an Essay on Mozart’s Ave verum corpus, by one Dan Chouinard. This piece was part of the program. (You can read the Essay here: Dan Chouinard Essay001)
Chouinard is most definitely a French surname, and in this case Dan Chouinard rang a bell: Dec. 7, 2010, my sister wrote about meeting Dan at an event in the town where she lives, and talk got around to our shared French-Canadian histories. Were we related, she wondered. “Dan Chouinard (Prairie Home Companion, pianist extraordinaire) and Prudence Johnson performed here in Park Rapids on Friday, hosted by the Kitchigami Regional Library with Legacy Amendment funding. Dan introduced himself as French-Canadian ancestry, whose early family immigrated to NE Minneapolis before Minnesota was a state. Of course, I told that I, too, was French Canadian, and told him about your family history project. He wondered if it was archived at the Minnesota Historical Society, and I’m glad to see that I was correct when I told him I was sure it was!
I briefly cruised through the genealogy part of the document we have and couldn’t see any Chouinards. Apparently some people in his family have also done a great deal of work on their genealogy, too.

I don’t know how or if our families intersect in a genealogy sense, but I do know family pioneers were in the present day Twin Cities area “before Minnesota was a state” [1858]. I haven’t heard much about music as a special talent in my French-Canadian ancestry; my interest seems to come from my mother’s German side. But, who knows?
I’m going to see about meeting this Dan Chouinard….