Musician/songwriter John Mayer stopped by Berklee on June 16, 2017, to workshop songs from six students in front of a 500-strong crowd. One of those songwriting students, Eva Cassel, shares her experience below.
By Eva Cassel B.M. ’17
Throughout my 21 years of life I have held on to my father’s philosophy: “The most terrifying experiences are the most rewarding.” This certainly held true when I played an original song of mine called “Pretty Girl” in the spotlight, 500 shadowy faces looking back at me, and the one and only John Mayer casually perched to my right.
Before the clinic I kept making jokes in an attempt to defuse my nerves. “I can see the headline now: Girl pukes on John Mayer at Berklee Clinic!” Luckily, no such headlines exist. I waited back stage with five incredible peers: Danny Silberstein, Callie Sullivan, Miette Hope, Brian Walker, and Charlotte Lessin. The first thing he said after walking into the green room was, “Thank you all for being brave enough to do this.” Immediately he leveled the playing field.
Besides a brief introduction and performing a couple songs to wrap things up, the entire clinic focused on studying our songs. Each song was wonderfully different, as was his approach to critiquing and commending us. Not only was I blown away by his articulate ideas, I was thrilled to discover that he is just as much of a nerd as all of us sitting on that stage. He views songs as puzzles, a code to crack. “Your friends are not going to get it. They’ll think it’s weird when you say you have to stay in to finish a song. That’s just who we are and it’s wonderful.” He spoke about zooming in and zooming out, how these different perspectives deepen the song, working in tandem with metaphor. His appreciation of craft is incredible.
Read more about Mayer’s songwriting workshop from fellow participants Callie Sullivan and Charlotte Lessin.
Careful to spend an equal amount of time with each song, he expressed he gladly would have spent more if he could. I learned each song, and every piece of feedback John Mayer offered. The song I played was inspired by the words of Allen Shamblin: “Our deepest insecurities are the most universal.” Mayer suggested changing a couple lines, adding a few more details here and there, but what stuck with me the most was this perspective: “The heart breaks for the heart that isn’t breaking in times of sadness.” Much more poetic than saying no one cares about a sob story. Mayer describes this technique as “a perfect narrative.” What’s being said isn’t exactly what’s being felt, shifting focus on what’s being said and not the person who’s saying it. Well, I’ve got my career cut out for me. Thanks John Mayer; you’re a real one.
Afterwards, not only did he thank us again, he asked us if he had done a good job. In case you had any doubts, I can confidently tell you John Mayer is a homie. Aside from the fame, he’s a humble, kind, nerdy dedicated songwriter. Yes, this experience was terrifying, but it was worth every second of fear. Thank you, John Mayer. You’re going to live forever in me.
Eva Cassel B.M. ’17, San Francisco Bay area native and recent Berklee graduate, has a crunchy California vibe with a punk San Francisco edge. Her diverse musical style combines the indie attitude of Elliott Smith and the pristine vocal melodicism of Joni Mitchell. A self-proclaimed word nerd, Cassel’s music heavily focuses on lyrics and storytelling.
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