Written by: Camelia Rodriguez, former student
Date published: May 11, 2008
Not many people are fortunate enough to find their true passion in life, and those who do may not be able to fully pursue a life revolving around it. Lillian F. Coco, better known as just "Coco," 74, fell in love with music as a teenager when her fingers first touched a piano. Sixty years later, piano is still a major part of her life, and the music school she opened in 1978 is still going strong.
"Tunes & Taps just celebrated thirty years of business. I am so proud," Mrs. Coco says with a big smile. "This school has really touched a lot of lives. Even when I'm gone, I think it will continue to do so."
Mrs. Coco was born in the 1930s and grew up on the east side of Chicago. Both her mother and father immigrated to America from Italy.
Music became a big part of Mrs. Coco's life from day one, she says. She was 14 when she became interested in taking piano lessons, after seeing a piano in her best friend's home. "I wanted to play that piano so bad," she says with a laugh. "I used to buy sheet music and pretend I knew how to play!"
She took lessons for 10 years and eventually began teaching piano at 17. "I started teaching only because I loved it. I love kids and I love music. It was only natural to combine the two."
Mrs. Coco also took up other instruments, such as the organ, accordion, and bass guitar. "It was like I caught a music bug or something. I wanted to learn every instrument I could get my hands on."
She eventually went on to college and obtained a degree in music. "That was the beginning of the rest of my life. It's always been about music, and how I can bring it into other people's lives."
Mrs. Coco opened Tunes & Taps Music School on the west side of Chicago when she was nearly 44 years old. She had just recently quit her teaching job when one of her former students approached her about an old school building for rent. "It was near his house and he told me, 'Coco, you should check it out.' To be honest, I wasn't even thinking about opening my own school. I was planning on just looking for another teaching job somewhere else."
After being persuaded by her husband, Mrs. Coco did take a look at the building... and Tunes & Taps was born.
She had opened the school with a friend of hers who taught dance. This is where the "Taps" part of the school name comes from. The dance studio did not have as much business as the music school, and eventually had to close. Mrs. Coco relocated the school, but the name remained the same, and the music school kept going.
"It was only a few years ago that we had about only eighty or so students. Today we have a little over two hundred. It's amazing how huge the school has become!"
Tunes & Taps has been around for so many years that former and current students have become teachers. Several of the ten total teachers at Tunes & Taps were either past students or older students currently taking lessons as well.
"I consider this school to be a kind of family," says Mrs. Coco. "I would rather not hire outside of this family. I can see the progress of each student first-hand, and if I think they would be a good addition to the teaching staff, I will certainly offer them a position."
Daven Taba, 25, is a current vocal and piano teacher at Tunes & Taps. He began taking vocal lessons from Mrs. Coco when he was 18, and began teaching at the music school around the same time. Prior to coming to Tunes & Taps, he had taken piano lessons for several years, and Mrs. Coco offered him a job after hearing him play.
"I thought it was about time for me to get a job since I just started college, and I really love music," Taba says. "It was a great way to make money doing what I love."
When Taba first met Mrs. Coco, he immediately noticed her uniqueness. "I remember really admiring her relationship with the people at the school. Everybody seemed so comfortable and really happy to be there. I knew that she was a big part of that."
Patty Tokimoto, 44, says of her first impression of Mrs. Coco, "She was nicer than the nun with a metal pointer."
Tokimoto began taking piano lessons at Tunes & Taps when she was around 7 years old, and began taking vocal lessons in the 8th grade. Mrs. Coco was her instructor for both. Tokimoto started teaching piano at the music school when she was a freshman in college. "Coco offered me a teaching job so that I could pay for my lessons. My father decided he would no longer pay for them, because I did not want to play classical music like he wanted."
Tokimoto recently left her teaching position at the music school after 25 years, but she vows that the school will always have a special place in her heart, and she will definitely visit. "I grew up in this school. Coco was more than just my teacher and boss. She was like a second mother to me."
Many Tunes & Taps students share Tokimoto's sentiments. Even the students who do not take lessons with Mrs. Coco think very fondly of her. She makes it a point to know every student and their parents by name. "I have watched a lot of these students grow up from little boys and girls to young men and women. I would have to be heartless to not love all of them like my own children." She has very close relationships with almost all the students and their families.
Taba describes a time when Mrs. Coco's character really shone through. It was an exchange he saw between Mrs. Coco and a student's father. She had been ranting and raving about the man, because he was two weeks behind in payments for his daughter's lessons.
"The man comes in, and Coco is ready to confront him in her usual Coco manner, which can be a bit harsh. However, the man tells Coco that he had been having problems with his family and with his wife. Next thing you know, Coco and this man are sitting in the lounge, and Coco is just listening to him and giving him advice. It was a great moment."
Mrs. Coco explained to Taba later that day that her role at Tunes & Taps can change in the blink of an eye.
"She has to transform from tough businesswoman to caring counselor in a matter of minutes. But she loves it. That's what makes our school different than any other music school I know. Coco really cares about the well-being of our clientele, and lets them know that she is here to help whenever and however she can."