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Westlake’s Beloved Band Teacher: Always About the Music and the Kids

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Westlake High School’s longtime music teacher Carlo Capano retires at the end of this week after 39 years at the leading the school’s bands.

The rush of being on stage and feeling the excitement of the audience appreciating your work may be the greatest satisfaction a musician can receive.

While Carlo Capano has certainly experienced that during his career, it has been the nearly 40 years he has spent toward the front of the music room leading students at Westlake High School and at the head of the stage for school concerts and performances that has provided him with the ultimate reward.

“The fun of making music and working with kids was great,” Capano said last week. “I just fell in love with all of that.”

Later this week, Capano will walk out of the school for the final time after 39 years at Westlake. Capano is retiring from teaching but he leaves knowing that he has influenced multiple generations of students, whether they went on to a music career, as some have, or chose to do something else.

During his final spring concert leading the school’s concert band, the outpouring of love from current and former students and the community made it difficult for him to keep his emotions in check. Despite being a classically-focused performer and having earned masters’ degrees in music education and performance at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Capano admitted that being the center of attention is not always something he is comfortable with.

For this year’s spring concert, eight of his former students who have followed in his footsteps teaching music at schools throughout Westchester and elsewhere returned to their alma mater to wish their former mentor well.

“My greatest satisfaction is making the music come alive, expressing it to our audiences. I love our audiences,” Capano said. “This district just loves to see their kids perform and hear their kids perform, and then to do it also at a high level, good sound, again, from that student that’s just doing it as a hobby, to that student who’s at a high level and is playing gorgeous lines of music, it’s really a great satisfaction to share that with an audience.”

Capano said that for the past four or five years he was thinking about retirement and was on the verge of moving on in 2023, but decided on one more year. Leaving the students, some of whom have been with him to seventh grade, has always made it difficult to say goodbye.

He hopes to stay involved in music, perhaps leading an orchestra or resurrecting one that ran out of funding during the pandemic.

“The kids really become super affectionate in making music together,” he said. “They really become a team. Then you consider that they kind of grew up with me, and that unlike a math class…it’s the same kids, and if you have anything to do with them in seventh grade, you think about all those years they truly grew up with you.”

Capano’s gifts and love of music started as a child. Born in Calabria, Italy, he along with part of his family immigrated to Pittsburgh in 1966 when he was 10 years old. The following year in sixth grade he had the chance to take music in school, and since he had always loved the trumpet, picked that instrument. The school didn’t have enough trumpets, so his mother scraped together $20 to buy an old trumpet from a neighborhood pawn shop.

In music class, Capano said he was given the book for the entire school year, but not knowing he was supposed to only do the next assignment, he managed to finish the entire book within a few weeks.

His music teacher, Mr. Howard, then gave him the music and a recording to a Haydn trumpet concerto, Capano learned that himself. Howard then contacted the head of music for Pittsburgh’s public school system, Mr. Pasquarelli.

“He treated me like a son,” Capano said. “My dad was still in Italy; he hadn’t come over yet. He knew I needed some guidance, so as not to get in trouble.”

With his musical gifts, Capano was on his way to Carnegie Mellon on a music scholarship, and took the five-year program that would also earn him a master’s degree. He stayed two additional years for the second masters in performance because the university was attempting to retain its best musicians for a brass ensemble that would be performed at Carnegie Hall.

That to led a teaching position at West Virginia University, then three years as a middle school music teacher in Chatham Township, N.J. It was there that a colleague told him about the vacancy at Westlake in 1985.

Capano was tasked with building up the band program when he arrived in Mount Pleasant. Starting with 22 students, he also taught in middle school and even for a while at Columbus Elementary School to help bring interest and proficiency in the younger children.

Having reached more than 90 students, Capano has dedicated all of his time in recent years at the high school overseeing the concert band, jazz band, wind ensemble and pit orchestra for school shows.

But it always comes back to the music and helping the students find that spark. What he enjoys is the musicmaking and seeing the kids create together.

“Conducting is like performing. Your band, your orchestra is your instrument,” Capano said. “You’re shaping those beautiful phrases, you’re kicking that rhythm, you’re making those crescendos and making the music exciting for the audience.”








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