The sounds of piano music floating from the Brooklyn Music School enthralled New York City police officer Chris Yip as he was walking to his beat 10 years ago. Intrigued, Yip signed up for piano lessons that day.
“At that moment, asking for a teacher was like walking into a new world,” Yip tells PEOPLE.
It was a world that he soon discovered would serve as an antidote to the stress he faces as a cop.
“We respond to so many phone calls and 911s and deal with people on the streets and people are usually stressed out and agitated, and we have to deal with their frustrations, their anger, and it weighs very heavily on the officer,” says Yip.
“We all have this stress, so music really helps me dilute a lot of that.”
Yip is now a trained classical pianist who performs benefit concerts for non-profit organizations throughout New York City, as a way to give back to the communities he serves.
“I can use the performance to help someone else,” says Yip. “As officers we see people who really could use some assistance.”
Giving back to the community this way, says Yip, “is even more satisfying than performing.”
It takes a year to prepare for each concert, his most recent was in May at the Brooklyn Music School — where he still takes weekly lessons.
The money he raised will go towards student scholarships there and to City Harvest, which feeds New York City’s hungry.
The NYPD made a video of Yip performing, which has gotten almost 30K views on its Facebook page.
“He is a great person, a very giving person and he is just doing this because he likes to play music and he likes people,” says Yip’s longtime teacher Valentina Nazarenko, noting Yip also tunes the music school’s pianos for free.
Yip, 37, has loved music for as long as he can remember. He wanted lessons as a child. But as recent immigrants from Hong Kong to New York City, his family didn’t have the money for lessons.
Before becoming a police officer, Yip worked for a non-profit as a teacher and youth counselor in Queens, where he lives. He started playing an electric keyboard, but had never never taken lessons.
Yip joined the NYPD in 2004 to help the community on a larger scale, first working in Brooklyn before his current assignment as a sergeant that encompasses Manhattan’s Chinatown, Little Italy, SoHo and Lower Eastside.
He recently joined Sing For Hope, a non-profit that will enable him to perform in hospitals and, he says, “bring some joy.”
“I don’t understand who has a full time job and plays an instrument,” says Nazarenko. “I think it’s incredible because in order to play well you have to practice and he works and what is driving him?”
“He says he cannot live without it,” she continues. “It is part of him. Probably something inside which is a longing for expression.”