Michael is a Professor of Music (voice) at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, MN while Bonnie is a professional pianist
Our story about Theodora Cormontan starts in a grocery store in St. Peter, Minnesota in May of 2011. Bonnie ran into our friends, Barb and Roger Nelson. Knowing that we are musicians, Barb asked if we would like to have a few boxes of old music that had been stored in their attic for decades, because they were moving and wanting to downsize. We enthusiastically accepted the gift. A few days later Roger brought several boxes of music to our home, and while we were looking through one of the boxes we found a stack of hand-written manuscript music composed by someone named Theodora Cormontan. The first thing that impressed us was the beauty of her handwriting.
Then we opened up one of the scores and saw the work of a sophisticated professional composer.
We counted the scores and discovered about 150 different works, and we were very impressed! So, we wanted to learn more about Theodora Cormontan. One of the things we wanted to find out is how all this music ended up in Barb Nelson's attic. She told us the story began at the Aase Haugen "Old People's Home" near Decorah, Iowa. Theodora lived at the Aase Haugen Home from 1917 until her death in 1922.
Barb's grandfather, Otto Schmidt, became the first Administrator of this home when it opened in 1915. Otto's wife, Mollie, had a degree in music and had been a music teacher. She used to go to the Home and play the piano for the residents and became friends with Theodora. Theodora gave Mollie all her original compositions as well as her own personal library of music.
Rev. Otto Schmidt in 1925 Mollie Schmidt in 1925
Mollie passed the music on to her daughter Carola, who kept it until she died in 1975. Barb (Schmidt) Nelson subsequently received the boxes and put them away, really never to look at them again. Barb was somewhat aware that there was music in her possession from a composer who had lived at Aase Haugen, but she was unaware just how much music there was and didn't know Theodora Cormontan's history.
Carola Schmidt in 1970. She is wearing her Norwegian Bunad and Solje (silver).
Roger & Barb Nelson in 2011 at the Ft. Ridgely & Dale Church near Franklin MN, where Theodora worshiped and played the organ.
Since our first presentation in September, 2011 at the Ft. Ridgely and Dale Lutheran Church, we have given many performances of Theodora Cormontan's music, mostly in Minnesota but also in Iowa, Wisconsin, Florida, Washington, and Winnipeg, Canada. On May 28, 2015 we donated Theodora Cormontan's scores to the National Library of Norway (Nasjonalbibiloteket) in Oslo and performed her music there with a group of musician friends, including Barb and Roger. On June 2, 2015 we gave a concert at the cultural history museum (KUBEN) in Cormontan's hometown of Arendal, Norway.
Nancy Clasen (left), the great-great grand niece of Theodora Cormontan, and Barb Nelson present the music of Theodora Cormontan to Richard Gjems at the National Library of Norway (Nasjonalbiblioteket) on May 28, 2015.
To continue following Theodora's story, click on her name/drop down menu at the top of this page.