12,000 classes, one absence

| 17 Feb 2015 | 01:01

Kids in Music

A popular East Side music teacher misses her first day in 15 years, and her boss throws a party Upper East Side When Frank Perero, owner of Kids in Music, throws a special dinner in honor of piano instructor Nancy Liu, it won't be because of retirement or illness, but rather a well-deserved celebration of service. Last month, Liu cancelled an appointment and joked to Perero that she couldn't remember the last time she had done so. Unable to remember himself, Perero went through his records, only to discover that in the 15 years and over 12,000 classes she had been teaching, this was the first time Liu had ever needed to cancel a class.

That's when Perero decided that a dedication to Liu was absolutely necessary.

"I thought he was just kidding," said Liu. "It's been so many years and I haven't even gotten an award!"

But Perero wasn't kidding. In his estimation this sort of dedication was hard to come by. "We have teachers now that are like 'oh gee I can't," said Perero. "She was probably teaching 40 lessons a week, and didn't miss a beat."

Liu hadn't always planned on being a music teacher. She studied piano as a child, but admitted she "wasn't particularly talented," but still loved music. This love extended to her first trip to college where she majored in music. Like many music majors, with a little nudge from her father, she decided that a career in music would be impossible, and opted to return to school as a pre-med.

While working on her pre-med, Liu began teaching piano on the side in her dorm room. Part of the program she was in also had her doing community service work, teaching underprivileged 12-13-year-olds in Harlem.

"I was very frustrated," she said. "They didn't understand why we were there. Eventually, I found that if I teach these kids the way I teach piano, maybe it will work."

It did, and in the process she discovered a way to put her music degree to practical use. She told her family that she wanted to be a music teacher, and while her father wasn't happy, she found her calling. Liu is in her fifteenth year with Kids in Music; during that period, she also taught piano at the Dalton School for nine years.

"I have never seen someone that good with children," said Perero. "She has this talent to keep the children motivated and focused."

Children at Kids in Music usually begin piano when they're five years old, and many of them have stayed with the program, and Liu, for a half dozen years to follow.

"I'm always learning as a teacher," she said. "It's still new, but new in different ways."

There are many teachers who love their work. But how can you quantify passion? 12,000 consecutive appointments is a good start. How did Liu weather sickness, surgery, and food poisonings for 15 years without a hiccup?

"For some reason when I teach I don't feel the effects of a fever," she said. "When I teach, I'm just so happy."

Perero expects many students, both current and former, to appear at the dedication for Liu on March 8. This continuity of faces is something that has become Perero's favorite part of the job.

"You do something for so long, and you start to forget that it's special."