Sax man

Recent grad heading to U-M says he was able to blend Notre Dame's academic standards with his love of playing jazz.

Joe Martin, Notre Dame's director of bands, has high praise for just-graduated senior Christopher VanDieren.

"Christopher has been in the NDP band program for four years," Martin said. "I can honestly say that he is one of the best musicians I have ever had in my 25 years of teaching."

High praise indeed. But Martin isn't talking about some musical prodigy who started playing Mozart as a three-year old. In fact, VanDieren, who ended his high school band career as one of a leader in the jazz band, only picked up his current instrument as a sophomore.

"Two years ago, I had never touched a saxophone [previously, he played clarinet], but by the beginning of this school year, I was lead alto sax in the band," said VanDieren, one of Notre Dame Prep's 27 valedictorians for 2019.

He said that at the most recent Big Band Dinner Dance, which was held last Saturday, being able to perform there with his band mates was one of the most fun and fulfilling times of his NDP career.

Gig was a blast

"That performance Saturday was the culmination of two years of very hard work and perseverance that I think finally paid off for me," he said. "The only reason I was on that stage at the Lafayette Grande was because Mr. Martin asked me during my sophomore year if I wanted to learn to play saxophone after which he invited me to join the jazz band."

VanDieren said he will be forever grateful that in the fall of his junior year Martin actually accepted him, still an inexperienced sax player, into the "practically professional" NDP jazz band. 

"Mr. Martin is truly passionate about music and dedicated to the NDP band program and to his his students," he said. "And Saturday's gig with him directing was a blast as we played almost four hours of jazz music. There is nothing quite like playing "Harlem Nocturne," "Moonlight Serenade" or "In the Mood" with your friends in front of about 200 people." 

VanDieren also said there was nothing quite like walking across the stage Sunday during Notre Dame's 25th commencement to pick up his diploma. He now looks forward to the University of Michigan in the fall where he will be enrolled in the school's College of Engineering. He said he's currently interested in biomedical, chemical or materials science and engineering. 

"At Michigan, I will have the opportunity to explore those areas and more in my first-year engineering courses," said VanDieren, who first came to Notre Dame as a freshman from St. Hugo in Bloomfield Hills. "Ultimately, at this point I am not sure whether I will remain in engineering or will eventually branch off into medicine." 

Strong academics and band program

VanDieren's sister, Maria, is a freshman at Notre Dame Prep. She also matriculated from St. Hugo in a decision that her brother says was an easy one to make. For him, it was simple.

"I came to Notre Dame Prep because it was a Catholic high school with a strong academic record and great band program," he said. 

But after four years at Notre Dame, during which he earned a perfect 36 on his ACT as a junior, VanDieren also came to appreciate the fact that the school focuses on developing more than just academic or musical overachievers. 

"For me, the NDP mission was an inspiration encompassing some of the most important values that exist in our world today," he said. "Between Christian people, upright citizens and academic scholars, it includes everything I strive to be. As for what it means to be a Christian person, to me that means we accept the tenets of the Church and keep God's commands. To be an upright citizen, we must be an involved member of the community who upholds the law in his or her daily life, and also knows and loves both his neighbors and his country."

When asked what he might tell those neighbors or prospective students who may be looking at Notre Dame, VanDieren is unequivocal. 

"I would tell them that Notre Dame Prep is devoted to the highest academic standards. That's a given," he said. "And it has really great teachers, especially its dedicated AP staff. But NDP also offers numerous and great opportunities in the form of a wide variety of classes and extracurriculars. And of course, I'd have to say the band program is truly unique, especially the jazz band. 

"Overall, Notre Dame truly has something for everyone!"

Comments or questions?

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About Notre Dame 
Notre Dame is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. Notre Dame Preparatory School 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 lower and middle schools enroll students in pre-kindergarten through grade eight. NDPMA is an International Baccalaureate "World School" and is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers. It 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, visit the school's home page at