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Meet Sue Lopez of Westlake Piano Studio

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sue Lopez.

Sue, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I’ve always been a hopeless romantic. The thought of a career was not on my radar during most of my young years. I wanted to be Cinderella, marry a prince and live happily ever after. My mother filled our home with beautiful classical music that she played on the piano. I took piano lessons, but I preferred pop music. Show tunes were a nice bridge, as both my mom and I liked them. All those stories, melodies, and dreams put to music captivated me.

Fast-forward to college and sorority life, which was musical, and I got my first taste of playing and singing for an audience. I majored in teaching, but the demands of classroom teaching wore me out. Then I studied advertising, in which I could use my talents of art, story-telling, persuasive writing, and sometimes even music. In addition to my “day job,” I studied acting, singing, and songwriting, and released three CDs of my own songs. My advertising career served me well, until I was laid off at age 52, only to discover all the doors for finding work seemed closed. It was a dark, scary, financially lean time. I tried to talk myself into working at a grocery store or other suboptimal job. The world had changed, I had grown older, and it seemed that none of my experience mattered. The jobs I interviewed for had very strict rules about time clocks and grids and data reporting, all things that seemed a terrible fit for me.

My hair stylist told me about a client of hers who was teaching piano with a specific curriculum that taught all styles of music and sounded really terrific. I checked it out and within a few days I was up to my ears in training to teach the program. In just a few months I got a few students, and that was four years ago. My business has steadily grown, and I have a full schedule of students of all ages.

I teach students how to play songs before teaching them how to read music, and I encourage their creativity and improvisation. One parent calls me a “music therapist,” which warms my heart. My focus is on leading people to a love of music and the joy of playing.

I have a website and a page on Yelp! and that is all the promotion I do. Good reviews bring people to me, and word-of-mouth referrals are golden. Also Golden is my dog, Buddy, who charms every student who allows him in the lesson. I have found a “happy place,” which was always my most authentic ambition. I also found my “true love,” Bob, a gifted musician who shares my passion for music and nurtures my students as well. Our home is filled with music, laughter and love – and, remarkably, I am earning more doing what I love than I earned working in advertising.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
The early days of attracting students caused me a lot of anxiety! However, my enthusiasm and passion for music came through, and I am especially grateful for those first students who put their trust in me. It also takes some adjusting to have people in my home much of the time, and I work during the dinner hour quite a bit. I can have some say over my schedule, but if someone really wants to learn, I give it a chance and it all seems to work out.

Sometimes a student seems uninterested, and the parent may be trying to force them into lessons for whatever reason. I always address it. I do not want unhappy students. I have had students tell me point-blank that they do not want to study piano. I say, “you feel how you feel” and try to guide them and their parents toward resolving the issue.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Westlake Piano Studio – what should we know?
Relationships and personalization are what I do best. I want to put people at ease from the first moment. I would rather inspire others into a love of music than try to force them into anything. I help them to see playing piano is do-able, step by step, and fun. It’s not just playing only what is prescribed, but also learning how to make up your own music. I believe that coming up with ideas, or improvising, is one of the greatest skills young people can develop. I do not focus on “talent,” “perfection,” or “performing.” I focus on learning to play smoothly and for pleasure. People come in with various perceptions and anxieties, and I try to help them relax and laugh. I have a shirt that reads “No perfect people allowed” that encourages them to just be themselves.

Students pay by the month rather than by the lesson. This creates a mutual commitment. I tell people if they play each day between lessons, they will move forward faster. If not, progress will be slow. That is just how it works. Like Dory says, “just keep swimming!”

The curriculum I teach is vastly different from traditional piano lessons. Students learn to play songs in a variety of genres right away, which is very reinforcing. They learn note-reading gradually. The founder of the program provides a wealth of training on the method, running the business, and dealing with people. There are over 700 teachers worldwide and we are a support system to each other, which is extremely helpful.

Music is good for your brain and it makes people happy. The benefits far outweigh playing video games. Parents have told me learning piano helped their children’s ability to concentrate, and helped them be less hyperactive. For adults, it keeps brains active and gives students a sense of accomplishment. Playing piano is an excellent stress reliever.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
I could name hundreds of people who have played a big role in the success of my business. First of all, my mom, who played piano so beautifully. Secondly, my hair stylist, Marsha Roberts, who cared enough to bring this breakthrough teaching method to my attention. My husband, Bob, has been tremendously supportive of me and a great host for everyone who comes for lessons. My sisters and friends attended my first introductory session to encourage me and ease my nerves. Neil Moore, founder of Simply Music, inspired me the first time I heard him speak because I felt the love in his voice. Lisa Popeil (master vocal teacher) inspired me and gave me valuable teaching tips. Alan O’Day, #1 hit singer/songwriter and mentor, helped me grow musically, and sadly he passed away just as I was starting this business. His wife, Yuka, was supportive of my efforts even in the midst of her grief, which meant a lot to me. I am also grateful to many of my fellow church members who prayed for me when I was between jobs and while I was starting the business. I’ve had so many teachers, and I have learned from them what works and what does not — and I’m still learning.

Pricing:

  • I charge $150 per month for a weekly 30-minute lesson. I teach 47 weeks per year.
  • Student home materials cost approximately $45 per level, and each level lasts about 12 weeks.

Contact Info:

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

1 Comment

  1. Lynette

    July 31, 2019 at 16:28

    Sue is indeed a treasure. My daughter was one of her first students and flourished under her tutelage. I can’t imagine that there are nicer, funnier, more patient, kinder piano teachers out there. We hit the lotto!

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