Music Students Chat With Singer-Songwriter John Mayer

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SUNY Oneonta music students and faculty participated in an unforgettable Zoom video chat Wednesday afternoon with a very special guest lecturer – award-winning singer-songwriter John Mayer.

During the hour-long video discussion, Mayer answered questions from students and chatted with them about lessons he learned early in his career, his songwriting process, and inspirations and love of playing the guitar, as well as the state of the music industry and the importance of creating personal relationships with people rather than so-called “networking.”

One of the most memorable moments came near the end of the discussion when Mayer was asked to write a jingle off the top of his head about SUNY Oneonta and sing it. To the delight of the students on the call, he did so effortlessly.

“This meant everything to me,” said freshman Music Industry major Cameron Bontrager, who has been playing guitar since he was 10 years old and had the chance to ask Mayer a direct question during the session.

“What has kept my music dream alive is seeing what John can do with music, because I know I have that same exact spark in me and I haven’t seen it anywhere else. I had been constantly pulled back and forth between studying music, and doing what I really wanted to do, which is just play and create all day, and he was totally right: it’s not practice or work. It’s hard to put this into words, but he’s the reason I’m able to put my phone down and practice as much as 6-10 hours a day. He has been my mentor, without a doubt.”

The exciting opportunity was the idea of a SUNY Oneonta alumnus who works closely with Mayer – Class of 1993 Music Industry grad Rit Venerus, founder and president of Cal Financial Group. Venerus reached out to music Lecturer Nancy Tarr about three weeks ago to ask how her students were adjusting to online learning in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and offering to help in any way he could. Chatting with Mayer, he suggested, could be a bright spot in students’ lives and an inspiration.

Before the call ended, Mayer told students that his heart goes out to them during this confusing, unprecedented time.

“When I think about being a young person confronting these times, they are so different than any times we’ve ever had – most times, an adult can say to a young person, ‘Well, here’s the point of reference for that,’ [but] we don’t have a point of reference. No one has a skill set for this. My heart goes out to younger people, everyone watching – it’s a hard one. The fact that you’re adapting this way is a life skill that nobody wished for you to have, but I think you’re going to walk away saying, ‘If I figured navigating this out, everything else is relatively a breeze.”

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