Dan Capecchi: Teacher, Dean, Drummer, Composer, Secret Agent?


FSS Flickr

Dan Capecchi at World Cafe Live, image courtesy of FSS Flickr

“We’ve got an ablative! But which ablative is it?” Tr. Dan drops to a crouch on the floor of his classroom and goes into a full somersault before putting his hands up like a secret agent. “Ablative of Personal Agent!” 15 squeaky-voiced Latin students call.

A man of many jobs, Dan Capecchi has had a life of composing, performing, teaching, and advising. According to Dan and Music Department Chair Heather Fortune, his history as a musician has informed his life as a teacher. Dan majored in Classics in undergraduate college and attended graduate school for music. He was in a series of bands, including Pepperfoot in high school and shotxshot through his first four years teaching here. Dan clarified that shotxshot is “a cinematography reference, not a gun reference.” shotxshot toured and had their records reviewed in magazines. As a teacher at FSS and father of two babies, Dan eventually decided to leave the band. Dan used to compose for shotxshot and sometimes still writes for the bass player, Matt.

Dan is known at FSS for his composition skills, which are showcased in the percussion section of the middle and upper school concerts. Composing for these shows requires Dan to play to each student’s strengths and abilities. Heather said: “He’s really come to the teaching role from a performance role and from a composition role, and he’s retained both of those aspects of his identities as a musician. And writing for school groups has become a really big outlet for him. I don’t know if we talk about [Dan’s composing] enough at school. His pieces are really, really cool.”

Along with composing, Dan has taken on many jobs over the years at FSS. He’s worked with Heather Fortune for 18 years and began at FSS by teaching private drum lessons. From there, Dan said he “started daydreaming about what it would be like if [he] taught a whole room of kids at one time.” During his time here, he has taught 7th and 8th grade Latin, middle school music, and after school drum lessons. He’s clerked the 7th and 8th grade team meetings and organized the middle school advisory curriculum. Currently, he is a middle school dean, teaches 7th grade music and middle and upper school Percussion Ensemble, and advises 8th graders.

As a child and teenager, Dan attended a school very different from Friends Select—a Catholic military school. He spoke on the differing opinions and structure and the ways it allowed him to dissent. He disagreed strongly with the military aspect, and he stopped going to church in his teenage years. After his son, Luca, expressed an interest in going to church, Dan returned for a few years. “It gave me a structure to think about things. And I took the burden off myself that just because I’m here, I have to believe in all this. I relieved myself of all of that.”

Interviewees remarked on Dan’s incredible teaching skills and what makes him a particularly special teacher. His excitement in regard to learning is clear to many students, including Peter Ryan ‘21, who remarked on Dan’s “continual love of learning.” Dan talked about his time as a Latin teacher and how he had to re-teach himself concepts he hadn’t studied in a decade. “That process alone was super enlightening for me because it taught me how I learned. And as I was doing it, I was thinking about how my students might learn, and that was probably the most exciting thing about Latin for me.”

Hannah Dubb ‘21, who was in Dan’s music class from 6th through 8th grade, 8th grade Latin class, and 8th grade advisory, described him as “fun and engaging… His personality shined through in each [class], in a really good way.” Patrick Ryan ‘24 reminisced on how Dan “was more willing to go on tangents and asides” in his 8th grade advisory, and Sarah Goldberg ‘21 appreciates Dan’s “little moments of obsession,” adding that Percussion is special because she and her classmates consistently look forward to it. “It’s like, ‘Hey, it’s Percussion! We’re gonna have fun with Dan!’”

Dan is an especially thoughtful teacher according to interviewees, who pointed to tangible evidence and particular electives. Heather described him as “intentional, detailed-oriented, and remarkably consistent.” She mentioned that he keeps a paper journal where he reflects after class on the current year and previous years and plans for lessons in future years. Dan adapts classes based on student input and growth: “I love going off script in a class and listening to what the class is telling me and we find something new together.”

Dan is also encouraging and loves to watch his students learn. “I love listening to my students’ compositions. That is really, really awesome. That is totally awesome. It shows me how vast the musical world is. What if everybody wrote compositions like they did crossword puzzles or read books? There’s amazing music locked up inside every single person.”

Several of his past and current students felt this support. Hannah expressed that “he genuinely cared about if anyone was having trouble. I never felt bad if I shared a [Latin] translation and it wasn’t correct.” Sarah, a current Percussion student, felt similarly about her time in the ensemble when she joined in 5th grade. “I kind of went to Percussion by chance and Dan was super nice, because I couldn’t do anything. He was very helpful.”

Dan discussed the bonds he forms with his Percussion students. They are the only students he teaches for up to eight years (from 5th through 12th grade). “With Percussion Ensemble, I’ve been really lucky to have some students all the way from middle school through high school, and they’ve been really, really special students for me. There are things that can only happen over stretches of time. And they’re not, like, firework things, but longevity can breed a very gentle trust. And I’ve really felt that with a lot of my students, and that’s been really, really, really valuable to me as a teacher.”
Dan’s interim position as one of the Middle School Deans (along with Steph Demko) became a permanent one this year. According to interviewees, it seems that the role makes sense for Dan from an organizational standpoint. Peter characterized him as “fair and understanding” and praised “his ability to sense community need and organize people.” He also expressed appreciation for the importance Dan places on holding students accountable.

Sarah described him as “very organized.” Patrick said that Dan has been “productive,” and he felt “comfortable” when he went to the deans about leading a presentation for Devotions, which is unlike other experiences he has had when talking with administrators.

In addition to the organizational role of Dean, Dan needs to act as emotional support for students. Many interviewees expressed appreciation for Dan’s ability to be both supportive and fun. Sarah said that Dan is “calm and really approachable,” and Hannah described him as “accessible,” adding that students feel “open to talking to him.” Both students, along with Patrick and Heather, also described Dan as a fun and funny person.

Dan works well as a dean, but the role was unexpected for him. Three separate times, he phrased his situation as simply “finding [his] way here.” He actively didn’t want to be a dean while he was teaching. However, it was what the community needed. He immediately clarified that he is a co-dean with Steph Demko and proceeded to compliment her at length.

As a longtime composer and drummer, Dan spoke on how he approaches his job as a dean. “The listening piece pertains to my life as an improvisational musician. You’re really searching for this balance of structure and reacting authentically in the moment in a way that will mean something to the people you’re with. And to me, that feels like very much the same thing as what we do here in a school. You’re trying to listen to what’s happening and changing when you should change.”

According to all interviewees, Dan’s personal character is remarkable. Peter referred to him as a “rock” and “trusted adult in the community,” and Hannah noted his reliability: “It was very clear that he was there if there were any issues or if you needed to talk to him.” Heather characterized Dan as “an unusually awesome guy” who is “thoughtful and kind.” Patrick appreciates his “outspoken” nature.

Peter emphasized Dan’s integrity and the way that he “leads by example…Without ever giving me any explicit instruction, just through his example of doing the right thing when nobody’s watching and being a really good guy with a lot of integrity, I think that Dan really challenged me to think about what I wanted my role in the community to be, in a way that I think has been essential to my education at Friends Select. Maybe one of the most important things I’ve learned at Friends Select is just how to carry yourself from being around Dan and how to fit into a community.”

One thing that Dan is working to improve is listening before taking action. “I’m overwhelmed with the feeling of wanting to help. Because somewhere deep inside of me, speed means that I’m caring, for some reason.”

Like many students who joined Percussion on a whim or were cast into his advisory, Dan did not intend to be a teacher or dean. His mind for composing and reliable, genuine character have allowed him to be a support system for many students. “I’m 41 years old now, and rarely in my life have I sat down to make a plan or, like, a long-term goal, and then achieve it,” Dan said. “This is just kind of where I found myself.”