By Kristina Houck
In five years as music director and conductor of Coastal Communities Concert Band, Dr. Robert Fleming, 71, has traveled about 150,000 miles. The Phoenix resident flew to San Diego every Monday to lead the band’s weekly rehearsals at Oak Crest Middle School in Encinitas.
“It just became a routine,” Fleming said. “To have the opportunity to work with such a wonderful group, it was worth it.”
After about 250 rehearsals and 40 concerts, Fleming is retiring as music director and conductor. The roughly-80 member group will honor his retirement during the Summer Pops Concert Aug. 18 at Carlsbad Community Church.
“As the conductor, he knows as much about band, band literature, and how to get a band to perform at top levels as anybody on the planet,” said Jim Reed, a Del Mar resident and member of the band for more than 20 years. “The band has flourished as a family, as a musical ensemble and as a positive contributor to the community with Dr. Fleming’s guidance and leadership. He will be sorely missed as a weekly participant, but welcomed always as Director Emeritus.”
Fleming was a music professor, associate director of bands and director of the Sun Devil Marching Band at Arizona State University from 1974 until 2002. For nearly 15 years, he also served as a guest conductor of Coastal Communities Concert Band. Fleming became music director and conductor in 2008.
“Making music is a wonderful sensation that not enough people can have because it’s one that requires a lot of talent and a lot of work from a performing standpoint,” said Fleming, who has played the flute since he was 4 years old. “From a conducting standpoint, when you put all that together, it’s just magic.”
Under his leadership, Coastal Communities Concert Band has conducted annual concerts benefitting Meals-on-Wheels Greater San Diego, raising more than $60,000. He’s also worked with the band’s foundation to audition more than 150 local high school students, and awarded almost $20,000 in scholarships to students in the San Dieguito Union High School District.
“The amount of musicality that group has is very uncommon in a community band,” Fleming said. “They’re really fine players. They work very hard.”
The highlight of his time with the band, he said, was the group’s performance during the 35th annual convention of the Association of Concert Bands in April in San Ramon, Calif. Fleming said the band received several standing ovations during and after its set.
“That concert went extremely well,” Fleming said. “It was probably one of the best I’ve ever been involved in. I think they knew how much I wanted it to be special.”
Following the concert, however, Fleming suffered a heart attack during the bus ride home. He was admitted to Scripps Green Hospital in La Jolla, where he was fitted with five stents.
“The doctor said, ‘You’re done,’” said Fleming, who underwent quadruple bypass surgery after his first heart attack in 2000. “I had to give it up. I’m OK with it now, and it’s going to be fine, but it’s something that I really didn’t want to give up.”
The Summer Pops Concert will introduce Dr. Angela Yeung as the band’s new music director and conductor. But Fleming will also serve as a conductor at the concert, which will feature American band music and guest performances by saxophonist Rob Verdi and vocalist Michael Ruhl.
Fleming will conduct five pieces during the show, most with Verdi. Verdi, who leads the Disneyland Resort’s house jazz band, is a former student of Fleming’s.
“He’s such a pro,” Fleming said. “To see what he has done with his career — he’s an outstanding performer. I’m looking forward to working with him.”
In addition to working with Verdi, Fleming said he is excited to lead his band one more time.
“I’m thrilled to be doing some more conducting with the band,” Fleming said. “I’m sure I will conduct them more in the future, but it will be back as a guest conductor.
“Coastal Communities Concert Band will always have a special place in my heart. It is a family.”
The Summer Pops Concert begins at 2 p.m. on Aug. 18 at Carlsbad Community Church.
For more information about Coastal Communities Concert Band, or to purchase tickets to the concert, visit