Each and every person strives to find his niche,
that one unique talent that sets each of us
apart. Some find it much later in life, while
others easily recognize their talent early on and
dedicate themselves to growing and refining that
talent to the best of their abilities.
Bonnie Lou Coleman, a private art and music
instructor in the east Valley, shares the story of
the musical talent she discovered and how her
determination and success have shaped the events of
Throughout Coleman’s childhood, she listened
raptly while her father, a lifetime musician and
enthusiast, played classical guitar. She also learned to
appreciate the Andres Segovia records that filled the
room with the classical sounds of a era long past.
“When I was very little my dad played the guitar,
and anytime I heard the sound of a guitar I thought,
‘Oh that is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard,”
Committed to the idea that Coleman herself
wanted to learn and master the guitar, she had her
father teach her everything he knew.
By the time she was 11, Coleman was playing
circles around her father.
“When I was 8 years old, any time anyone would
ask me what I wanted to do when I grew up, I would
confidently say that I was going to play the guitar and
then I’m going to teach guitar,” Coleman said.
Although no one truly believed she would be
able to study with some of the musical geniuses
because she was so young, she would insist on telling
everyone, “I want Segovia to live long enough for me
to study with him.”
Eager to continue her unpaved path to success,
she immediately started guitar lessons and began
formal studies at the Royal Conservatory of Toronto
at the age of 15, where she taught underclassmen as a
means to pay her tuition.
Once she arrived back in the states, she continued
her passion for music at the University of Texas
at Dallas. Her professors there were exceptional,
she said, encouraging her to perform at countless
Coleman’s dream quickly became a reality when
she learned that one of her professors happened to
be related to Andres Segovia, a Spanish classical
guitarist and known as the father modern classical
guitar. The professor frequently set up competitions
for people to compete for a spot in a master class
with Segovia in Madrid each year. He encouraged her
to compete, to show the world what she was made of.
Coleman went on to win countless competitions
until she finally landed a spot in the master class.
Among that group, she was the only female
“Everybody goes into one of Segovia’s classes
fearing the worst, thinking that he’s going to say
you’re not ready, then forcing you to you sit out and
observe. You almost expect that,” Coleman said.
After the first day, it only got better for Coleman.
Not only did she continue to strive for excellence,
she also developed a lasting, unique relationship
with Segovia. Segovia, in his early 90s, lived for three
years after Coleman entered his class.
Coleman received plenty of attention for her
talent, traveling extensively to Spain, Italy and
Cuba to study guitar with some of the greats, such as Jose Tomas, Alirio Diaz, F. Moreno Torroba,
Robert Guthrie, Enric Madriguera and Christopher
Coleman eventually returned to the states and
landed a job at Arizona State University-West and
Glendale Community College as the director of
Classical Guitar Studies in 1987. She served in the
post at GCC for 13 years up until an accident derailed
In 1999 Coleman was permanently disabled
by a tragic bicycle accident, where she fell into a
dry concrete canal in west Phoenix, resulting in 14
surgical procedures, including her legs, left shoulder
and both hands.
“Before I was compromised because of my
accident as far as being able to play, I was playing up
to 16 hours a day between teaching, practicing and
competitions,” Coleman said.
“After the accident I couldn’t do it anymore.”
Coleman refused to let anything stand in her way,
despite the surgeries, which is why she decided to
launch the Phoenix Conservatory of Music. She was
executive director for nearly six years.
She was also the founder and executive director
of the Community School of the Arts, a charitable
Today, Coleman remains a woman of many
talents, music only being the first of many other
artistic gifts she possesses.
As part of her personal recovery and therapy,
Coleman started concentrating on painting on
canvas, a skill introduced to her as a child by a great
aunt who made her living as an artist.
Coleman also studied various art media at the
university level over a period of more than 15 years,
as the electives in her degree programs and now
joyfully maintains a home art and music studio
as well as teaching art classes for all ages in the
Her hope is to provide opportunities for
local families to share art, music, theater and
literary experiences in a friendly, noncompetitive
She is extremely proud of her students for the
awards they have received and the overall progress
she continually witnesses from her inspirational
“I really encourage people to do their best,”
The awards of some of the students are: 1 place
Chandler Airport Poster Contest, 1 place Chandler
100 year Poster Contest, 2 place AZ State 100
years of AZ and art, 2011 AZ State Fair 11, 1-3 place
ribbons in watercolor, acrylic and multimedia,
2011, numerous 1-3 place ribbons in acrylic and
multimedia at the 2011 Maricopa County Fair and
2012 Arizona State Fair, nine first- to third-place
ribbons in drawing, acrylic and watercolor.
Her students took more than 20 top honors at the
2012 fair, and Coleman took 15-plus top honors at
that same event for her paintings, jewelry and crafts
Happiness stems from an infinite amount of
sources, and Coleman says she finds this through art
and music—it’s abundant and full of opportunity.
She is ecstatic to be able to continue playing and
to pass on her knowledge to others, along with hopes
for a future duet and concerts yet to come.
“I have a lot of pride in what I have actually
accomplished, and I’ve had a lot of joy in meeting
some of the greats,” Coleman said.
“It’s been a wonderful experience.”
If you’re interested in art or guitar lessons or
simply want to admire her artwork, go to www.
Sidenote: Coleman holds a Master’s Degree in
Music Performance (Classical Guitar) from Arizona
State University and a Bachelor’s
Degree in Music
The University of
Texas at Dallas.
She holds a
Clayton College in
studied at Phillips
University in Enid,
Okla., where she
hosted her own
successful cable TV
program on KEYTV
3 called “Guitar
Photo by Billy Hardiman