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, Callie Sullivan, shares her experience below.
By Callie Sullivan B.M. ’17
One month ago I was crossing the stage at Agganis Arena. I collected my diploma, shook hands with Berklee President Roger H. Brown, snapped a selfie with Todd Rundgren and Lionel Richie, and was on my way to start the rest of my life. The very next morning I said my goodbyes and left Boston for what I thought would be forever. Little did I know that while I was unpacking my things in my new Nashville, Tennessee, home, I’d get an email from Pat Pattison asking if I’d be willing to come back to play a show with John Mayer. Without even fully processing it all, I had a flight back to Boston.
The whole event was set up as a master class to reflect a typical songwriting class at Berklee. Five other songwriting students and I all brought in an original song to be played for feedback and critiques. The lyrics were projected on a screen for other students and the professor to follow along to. For this specific event, John Mayer was the professor. I was blown away by his knowledge and passion for songwriting. He had said, “Each song is like a tree house. You spend all this time creating a new place that never existed before. It’s a place built by you, for you, and is a place you can retreat to.” He was right. As songwriters we go into this trance while we’re writing. It’s as if we temporarily live in a different world that is only ours to inhabit.
I played an original song called “The Sinner.” It’s a 6/8 song in A minor that goes back and forth between metaphorical and colloquial speech. I was shocked to see John so wide-eyed and eager to comment on my song. He had suggested adding a chord outside the key of the song and when I added it, the audience went crazy. As I played through the song my final time, John harmonized along. I couldn’t believe I had just shared my little tree house with eight-time Grammy-winner John Mayer.
Backstage after the show John was incredibly personable and encouraging. We took a group photo and chatted for a bit before he parted ways by saying, “See you all out in the real world!”
Callie Sullivan is a singer-songwriter from Cleveland, Ohio. Raised on rock music, she has performed with artists such as Pat Benatar, Styx, Jefferson Starship, and Jon Anderson from YES. Sullivan has been writing, recording, and releasing music since she was 13. She now releases music under her pseudonym Virago. All of her music can be found at thisisvirago.com or @thisisvirago.