Healthy expressions through music

Notre Dame's music program and its students thrive under the tutelage of longtime band director Joe Martin.

In an article published on the Michigan Radio website, Mitchell Robinson, an associate professor of music education and chair of the music education area at Michigan State University, stated that music programs in Michigan schools generally are grounded in solid pedagogical foundations, with comprehensive, sequential general music programs in the elementary schools; and strong band, orchestra and chorus programs at the secondary level.

He also said that Michigan's teachers tend to be well-connected to their professional organizations and seek out professional development. Finally, he noted that based on his research, the quality of music teachers in the state is outstanding. 

"They are talented, smart and well-informed," Robinson said.

Directing Notre Dame's own solid and award-winning music program is one of those outstanding music teachers, Joe Martin.

Now with more than 20 years on campus, NDPMA band director Martin said he's seen the music program advance from less than 20 students when he first started at the school to more than 140 currently. He also said that over the years, he's followed the same basic philosophy of teaching music and directing bands.

"Basically, it comes down to this: I teach kids how to create by performing together through music," said Martin, who manages marching, symphony, jazz, pit orchestra and solo and ensemble bands at Notre Dame. "But I believe I teach much more than just music. I try to teach kids how to appreciate, understand, love, lead, follow, create and to express themselves in healthy ways."

Sounds like a huge task, but which for Martin, however, is probably not that big of a deal given his own work ethic and a healthy dose of experience and expertise one only gets from many years "in the business."

A world of music

After graduating from his own high school, Southgate Anderson, Martin started working as an architect and attending Henry Ford College in Dearborn. While at Henry Ford, he joined the school's jazz band because he wanted to continue with one of the true loves in his life: music. Little did he know that that college jazz band would change his life forever. 

"Our HFC jazz band, under the direction of Rick Goward, would perform all over the world, including the Bahamas, Montreux, Switzerland, New Orleans and Carnegie Hall in New York among others," Martin said. "I was lucky that my boss at the architecture office would give me time off to go on those amazing tours."

After three years of performing with the college, Martin knew he needed to devote himself more fully to music as a career. He quit his architectural job, changed his major to music education and received a full-tuition scholarship to Wayne State University, where he finished his bachelor's degree. 

With college under his belt, Martin started teaching music in the Birmingham school district at Seaholm High School. When Pontiac Notre Dame was looking for a band director, a friend of Martin recommended him to school founder, Fr. Leon Olszamowski, s.m. 

"It only took one meeting with Father Leon to see how passionate he and Notre Dame were about the arts, Martin recalled. "I trusted that God was leading me in the right direction and I accepted the job. Now, many years later, I still feel lucky to be here helping our students grow into adulthood."

Music is a family affair

A number of current students Martin is helping to grow into adulthood are a bit closer to him perhaps than the others. They also appear to have inherited his talent and love of music.

Martin's daughter Stephanie is in her senior year in high school and plays flute in the symphony band. She also is the drum major for the marching band and sings in the choir. 

"Stephanie actually performed for the Detroit Opera Children's Choir," Martin noted with obvious pride. "And my daughter Jessica, who is a high school junior, plays oboe in the symphony band, trumpet in the marching band and also sings in the choir. 

Martin's son Curtis, who is in his freshmen year, plays alto saxophone and sings in the choir. "He enjoys acting and singing in the schools plays and musicals," Martin said. His other son, Michael, an 8th grader, plays alto saxophone for his school and is on its robotics team.

Playing the local club circuit

When school is in session, Martin seems to be working on campus from sunup to well after sundown. But with more than 100 kids in the band program, he would likely need an extra 24 hours each day to get all that he needs done alone. Fortunately, he gets some great help from his staff.

"Greg Milewski, who is a retired band director from the Southfield school district, is my assistant," Martin said. "Patty Wyza and Shannon Bartlett are my color-guard coaches. Patty teaches at the lower division and Shannon is a graduate of NDP. Jake Matthews, also an NDP alum, is my percussion coach."

When school is not in session and Martin has a little free time, he can be seen around town on various stages himself, playing trumpet or trombone for a number of bands.

"I'm in a band called 'The Pros,' another one called 'Jump Street,' a group called 'Exit Strategy' and still another called 'Blues Crew,' to name a few," he said. "Most of the bands are either jazz or rock bands." 

NOTE: Notre Dame's upper and middle division bands will hold their Christmas concert next Thursday, 7 p.m., in the main school gymnasium.

Comments or questions?

Follow Notre Dame on Twitter at @NDPMA.

About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy
Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. The school's upper division enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's middle and lower divisions enroll students in jr. kindergarten through grade eight. All three divisions are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." NDPMA is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers and is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school's home page at