The first time Sean Fleming remembers hearing from his wife, she was leaving him a curt message on his answering machine in summer 1993, asking if he planned to appear at a music festival at Bowdoin College, as scheduled.
Linda Blanchard was particularly interested in meeting him because he was scheduled to accompany her when she was to sing at her sister’s wedding that summer.
At the time Blanchard was a graduate student at the University of Michigan, home for the choral festival. Fleming was a high school graduate who already established a reputation as a first-call accompanist.
Fleming was planning to make his appearance at the festival, but he was just so busy he hadn’t had time to RSVP, he said. Fleming recalls their first meeting occurred at that festival when she handed him the music for their performance with the words to the effect of they should probably schedule a rehearsal.
It was at that rehearsal, Blanchard recalled years later, she was quite taken with the young man from Rockland.
“I could tell he was excellent (musician), and I thought he was very handsome,” Blanchard said.
A few weeks later, when Blanchard returned to Ann Arbor, Mich. for her final year of graduate school, Fleming uprooted and went with her. Twenty-nine years later, Fleming acknowledged his friends and family didn’t quite know what to think at first.
“It was quite something and I had to work like heck to cancel things I had scheduled because my scheduling is almost like it in now,” he said. “I had a show at Bowdoin College (that fall). I had a musical there and I just had to tell them ‘I am going to Michigan. I will just find somebody else for you.’”
Fleming and Blanchard married the following year after returning to Maine. Today the couple is well established in the Midcoast arts scene. Accompanied by Fleming, Blanchard directs two choirs – the St. Cecilia Chamber Choir and the Sheepscot Valley Chorus – and they collaborate on the annual Lincoln Arts Festival Chorus.
The couple also works together at the St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Newcastle, where Blanchard directs the choir and Fleming is the church organist and music director.
Fleming said they always wanted to work together. Upon their return to Maine, they applied to various churches seeking paid positions. St. Andrews agreed to hire them both. The church even had a vacancy in the former church parsonage in Glidden Street, which later allowed the couple to move to Lincoln County and where they lived before buying a home in Damariscotta.
“We did have some other offers, but I think for just one of us,” Fleming said. “Because often in a church an organist directs the choir and we wanted to work together, if at all possible.”
Today, in addition to the groups his wife directs, Fleming performs regularly with local choirs, including Tapestry Singers, Midcoast Community Chorus, Down East Singers, and the Lincoln Academy Lincolnaires, among others.
Around those commitments he is on the roster of the Amethyst Chamber Ensemble and the Maine Friends of Music Chamber ensemble. He also performs with the newly formed vocal ensemble, the Butterscotch Sock Hop.
A partial list of his other extensive credits includes the Bowdoin Chamber Choir and Summer Music Festival Chorus, the Colby College Chorale, Maine Pro Musica, the University of Michigan Gilbert and Sullivan Society and the University of Southern Maine Chorale, and Chamber Singers, and Vox Nova Chamber Choir.
He has also accompanied numerous junior high and high school music festivals and directed or accompanied more than 80 musical theater productions. Locally, he was worked with the Heartwood Regional Theater Company for various productions.
When he is not accompanying, directing, or arranging for someone else, he leads two bands of his own, the Sean Fleming Ragtime Orchestra and the Sean Fleming Dixieland Band. He would love to do more Dixieland concerts if he could. They are time intensive to produce but the music so much fun to play, he said.
Unsurprisingly, Fleming’s schedule is usually jam packed and he is booked months in advance.
Over the next few weeks Fleming is performing with the St. Cecilia Chamber Choir at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 9 at the Bowdoin College Chapel, and 3 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 10 at the Damariscotta Baptist Church.
The next weekend, he performs with the Tapestry Singers at the Damariscotta Baptist Church Saturday, at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 16, and 4 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 17.
Scattered in and about he has a couple private concerts and a wedding.
“When I am at home I am usually at my desk scheduling stuff, that sort of thing,” he said. “Linda complains that she never sees me.”
Over the years Fleming said he has developed a few techniques to contribute to the art of being an accompanist Fleming said. The role differs slightly from being a soloist, or a musician in a band.
“One of the things I do is I listen to the voices going flat and I help them out,” he said. “Like the note they are going flat on, I play that one a little louder, that sort of thing. If I hear they did a passage wrong, when we stop I’ll play that little passage again so they’ll hear it. It requires all the small things, well it doesn’t require them, but to do it well and it makes the rehearsals go faster.”
Many professional musicians make their bread and butter teaching private lessons. Fleming does teach a few students privately, but his interest remains in performing and directing.
Teaching is actually extremely exhausting in that the teacher needs to find materials and tailor lessons to individual students and prepare individual feedback and criticism, he said. It might be easier to just teach a rote lesson, but Fleming feels an obligation to each individual student.
“It’s a nice income stream and I enjoy helping people, but I wouldn’t want to do more of it,” he said. “I don’t usually turn people down if they ask, but I don’t usually go out and promote myself that much.”
Known for his keyboard playing, Fleming is a talented multi-instrumentalist. As a high school student he qualified for the All State Band on clarinet and saxophone in addition to qualifying for the All State Chorus.
He enjoyed playing woodwinds in various ensembles up to recent years, until an attack of Bell’s palsy in 2018 paralyzed the left side of his face. Fleming said he was afflicted out of the blue one day while working at his desk. At first it presented as a dull flu-like ache in his back. Besides figuring he was coming down with something, he didn’t give it much thought.
“It was not even an intense pain,” he said. “I woke up the next morning and I looked in the mirror and it looked like I had a stroke. Linda saw it and she said ‘oh no, we’ve got to get you to the emergency room.’ She was horrified. So they tested and they figured it was Bell’s palsy and said it was caused by some sort of infection.”
The affliction is the primary reason Fleming rarely smiles in photographs and in person.
“It’s kind of a pain, but I don’t have it as bad as others,” he said. “For a lot of people it goes away, I know a lot of trumpet players who have had it for some reason. Sometimes pregnant women get it.”
When he is at home working, Fleming likes to have the TV on and he keeps half an eye attuned to the news and current events. While his wife has had all she can take of the current political debate, Fleming keeps an eye on it.
He has always enjoyed following politics, he said, but the divisive nature of the modern arena is depressing. All kinds of news articles and reports focus on things that divide people, he said.
The best part of his job is it serves to bring people together.
“I think musicians and other forms of art are one of those things that really help people get together and forget their differences, or if not forget, just think of something greater,” he said. “I guess I am glad I am in a career where I am in a small part, I can help with that. That’s kind of what I kind of enjoy the most about the job. It sounds kind of trite, but it’s helping people.”
For more information about Fleming and an up-to-date schedule, go to seanfleming.org.
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