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Bon Jovi's Secret Weapon

A Syracuse University alumna draws on her diverse musical training to shine as Bon Jovi’s violinist.

Three musicians pose with their instruments. Click to read the story.
Ponce with Bon Jovi and multi-instrumentalist Greg Mayo. (Photo by Lou Morreale)­

When Lorenza Ponce was studying violin in the College of Visual and Performing Arts , she never imagined playing for the president of the United States—a Syracuse University alumnus, at that—with legendary rocker Jon Bon Jovi.

But that’s exactly what Ponce was doing in the predawn hours of Jan. 15, less than a week before the inauguration of President Joseph R. Biden Jr. L’68, H’09. Perched atop a pier on Miami’s Dania Beach, she and fellow members of Bon Jovi’s solo group filmed a stirring rendition of the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” for Biden’s inaugural celebration.

The three-minute video, culled from an hourlong shoot, immediately went viral. “I got no sleep the night before we filmed, but it was worth it, especially when the sun broke through the clouds,” recalls Ponce, speaking by phone from her Manhattan home. “It turned out great.”

Ponce is instrumental to Bon Jovi—both the band and the solo artist. Witness her contributions to “Blind Love,” the hit single from the group’s 2015 album Burning Bridges , and “Real Love,” a bonus track on their 2016 follow-up This House Is Not for Sale . She also turned heads on Bon Jovi’s top-grossing Lost Highway Tour in 2007-08 and in concerts from Central Park and the studios of MTV.

It’s not enough to be good at what you do. You have to be 150% prepared, so in case you falter, you’re still giving 100%.

—Lorenza Ponce

Bon Jovi calls Ponce his “secret weapon.” “She’s an incredible role model, an amazing talent and a beautiful lady, inside and out,” says the musician-actor, whose New Jersey-based quintet was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018.

Ponce considers Bon Jovi a consummate professional. Over the past 20 years of working with him, she has learned the importance of staying healthy on the road—eating right, working out and getting plenty of sleep. “It’s not enough to be good at what you do,” she says. “You have to be 150% prepared, so in case you falter, you’re still giving 100%.”

A classically trained musician with a "rocker's edge and a new age heart," Ponce has toured with not only Bon Jovi, but also Sheryl Crow, The Chicks (formerly The Dixie Chicks), Hall and Oates, Ben Folds Five, Kitaro, and John Tesh. Rounding out her resume are appearances with Dolly Parton, Katy Perry, Sam Smith, Sarah McLachlan and Adele.

“Jon [Bon Jovi] likes the sound of the violin, so I do a lot of interesting gigs,” says Ponce, who also sings, plays viola, and writes and conducts string parts. “Because of my job, I’ve seen the world and have met many of my idols. I am very fortunate.”

Finding Her Path

Raised on a sprawling Maryland farm, Ponce is a study in contrasts. She began her collegiate training at the Manhattan School of Music, but soon realized that conservatory life was not for her. It was at the Aspen Music Festival and School in Colorado that a friend tipped her off about Syracuse University, which then offered a string fellowship with the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra. The opportunity to attend the Rose, Jules R., and Stanford S. Setnor School of Music while working with a professional orchestra sounded irresistible. Plus, the University afforded her a more comprehensive, residential experience.

Portrait of Lorena Ponce with instrument
The VPA alumna considers herself a classically trained musician with a “rocker’s edge and a new age heart.” (Photo by Harry Fellows)

As soon as Ponce set foot in historic Crouse College, she knew she had made the right decision to transfer. “The University enabled me to finish my violin studies while preparing for a career in rock,” says Ponce, who also studied classical voice and religiously transcribed guitar solos by Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. “I was exposed to jazz improvisation, electronic music and audio engineering, and I got to work with some amazing professors.”

One of them was Mark Drews G’96, a senior audio engineer and lecturer with strong rock credentials. He gave Ponce a thorough grounding in single and multitrack recording and mixing. “Mark set me on my path,” she says, adding that he also encouraged her to get an electric violin.

Outside of music, Ponce was the toast of the Gamma Chapter of Delta Phi Epsilon (DPhiE). She remains close to many of her sorority sisters, including Roxanne Donovan, now DPhiE’s international president. Donovan compares Ponce to a swan, radiating light, positivity and serenity. “What you don’t see is all the hard work—the strength in the paddling of her legs—that happens below the surface,” Donovan says. “Lorenza is remarkable.”

Famous without being recognized, Ponce admits that such anonymity has kept her focused and level-headed. “They say luck is when preparation meets opportunity,” she says. “I’ve done the preparation, so when the universe sends me a cool opportunity, I’m ready.”

Getting the Gig

Violinist on stage playing instrument
Violinist Lorenza Ponce has toured with Bon Jovi, both the band and the solo artist, for nearly 20 years. “She’s my secret weapon,” says the legendary rocker. (Photo by Gena Chatto)­ ­

Lifted by her University experience, Ponce returned to New York to break into the club scene. Sporting a candy apple red electric violin and a black leather jacket, she caught the attention of Ivy Markaity, who hired her for an alt-rock project called Raining Violet. At the band’s first gig at the Limelight—a deconsecrated Gothic Revival church-turned-nightclub—a slightly nervous Ponce left it all on the stage. “As soon as we went on, she was in her element,” Markaity recalls. “Lorenza declared afterward that she was going to be a rock star. I knew she had the discipline, drive and charisma to do it.”

In less than three years, Ponce went from working as a weekend warrior to being a full-time musician with a solo deal with Angel/EMI. Some of her first high-profile shows were with Blondie’s Debbie Harry and Yes’ Jon Anderson, the latter of whom encouraged Ponce to write her own music.

Lorenza declared afterward that she was going to be a rock star. I knew she had the discipline, drive and charisma to do it.

—Ivy Markaity

Veteran producer Mike Pela (Sade, Maxwell), who worked on Ponce’s first solo album, Imago , says her poise and emotion were beguiling. “The result was music rich in texture and depth, typified by the dramatic sweep of the title track,” he says, noting Ponce’s predilection for Celtic and Japanese styles. “She is an instinctive and emotional performer with a wicked sense of humor.”

A Lifelong Learner

Committed to making a difference locally and globally, Ponce is a keen advocate of biodiversity. She spends considerable time on the family farm, which she has helped turn into a 37-acre pollinator sanctuary. “We have a big butterfly field and about 15 hives,” says Ponce, who trains under a master beekeeper. “Everything we plant is non-GMO, organic and pollinated by our own bees.”

Ponce continues to grow in her environmental pursuits by following the wisdom of her beekeeping mentor—just as she grew in the music industry by learning from experts like Mark Drews and Jon Bon Jovi. “It’s not like you can read a book or take a couple of classes and then be good at something,” she adds. “You find someone who’s been doing it a while and ask them to teach you. That’s what lifelong learning is all about.”

Rob Enslin

This story was published on .

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