Members of the Bowdoin community were treated to an unusual performance last Saturday in the Chapel when keyboardist Sean Fleming played nine pieces on Bowdoin’s historic Austin Organ. One of two organs in the Chapel, the Austin was built in 1927 and is identical to the Kotzchmar Memorial Organ at Merrill Auditorium in Portland.
Fleming began his performance with Dietrich Buxtehude’s “Passacaglia in D minor.” Later in the performance he regailed the audience with “Raise Songs to Bowdoin.”
Anthony Antolini, senior lecturer in the Music Department and director of the Bowdoin Chorus, joined Fleming on stage at one point to perform what was perhaps the most touching song of the evening, “Church Sonata for Piana and Organ,” a piece by Myron Roberts, a composer who took on Antolini as his last student.
Antolini stood in front of the crowd after the performance to describe how Roberts, who passed away in 1992, felt like a father to him.
“It was really a wonderful experience. A very emotional experience,” said Antolini. “I think we really did [Roberts] an honor by playing it.”
Antolini invited Fleming to campus for the event, 20 years after his first offer to bring Fleming to Bowdoin. The two first met when Fleming was living in his hometown of Rockland, Maine, in the early ’90s.
“I was playing for a concert and he introduced himself as the new director,” said Fleming. “He asked me if I’d like to accompany the Bowdoin Chorus. So I started playing with the Chorus in 1992.”
Antolini says his invitation requires no explanation given the organ player’s talent.
“[Fleming] is about the best keyboard player in the whole state of Maine,” said Antolini. “I’ve never met anybody who played keyboard, especially who can sight read music, as well as Sean can. He’s genius.”
Fleming left the College after the ’92-’93 academic year, but found himself back in 1996, and has been accompanying the Chorus ever since. In addition, he accompanies the St. Cecilia Chamber Choir, directed by his wife, Linda Blanchard ’88, which performs in the Chapel every December. Fleming is also the organist at St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Newcastle, Maine.
Fleming concluded the concert with “Toccata on Alma mater,” a song based on Bowdoin’s alma mater, which brought the audience to their feet.