Student Profile: Claire Finley
Just listening to Claire Finley talk about her schedule is exhausting. Recently, the junior's performances have included the opening of Danny Mo's Jam, two separate acts for the Women Musicians Network Concert, backup for Raheem DeVaughn with the Hip-Hop Ensemble, auditions for the All-Female Battle of the Bands (so far she's made it to the finals), and a bass quartet for the global student cabaret café show. "For the past month, it's been common for me to have two rehearsals every night," Finley says.
It wasn't always this way. Her first year at Berklee, Finley didn't participate in much outside of classes. But she jumped at the chance to go to Greece in Berklee's first study-abroad program. The self-confidence she gained from the trip changed her outlook. Now she holds gatherings in her home for students interested in the programs, and her enthusiasm has helped her get to know a lot of people.
"One thing that I found at Berklee is the most important thing is who you know," Finley says. "Overnight I went from people kind of knowing me as the girl bass player to people coming up to me and really being impressed with what I do."
Two of those impressed were Bass Department chair Rich Appleman and professor Danny Morris, who select recipients for the Wes Wehmiller Scholarship. The scholarship was created by the parents of Wehmiller, bassist for Duran Duran, after his death from thyroid cancer in 2005. Each year a deserving bassist receives the $9,000 scholarship, then plays in Danny Mo's Jam here at Berklee and at WesFest, a concert held in L.A. to raise money for the scholarship.
Finley's connection to the Wehmillers goes beyond the scholarship. Her own father died of cancer just last year. Finley didn't take any time off from school, knowing how important her education was to her father. "I had to just do my best and keep on keepin' on," says Finley. She went to Greece just months after they found out about his condition, then went to Ghana with the West African Drum and Dance Ensemble that summer. When she returned to the school in the fall she threw herself into her studies, joined ensembles, and became a student ambassador for Berklee, building the foundation that led to her recognition this semester.
What has Finley decided to do now that she's received the scholarship? Take on more work, of course. She's added a second major, in music business. "I was almost done with my performance degree," says Finley. "And I decided I could either slack off for the rest of the time I'm at Berklee or I could really take advantage of the fact that I have this scholarship and do things that I wouldn't have done otherwise."
Onstage, Finley's camaraderie with her fellow players and general good nature shines. But despite her stage presence, she's not a showman. "A lot of bass players are all about chops and how fast they can play—they don't think about the groove," says Finley. "Once I've laid down a solid foundation, then I might experiment with different licks. The average person doesn't care if you're playing a symmetric diminished scale or using a three tonic system. They just want to be able to move."
The closeness among the members of the Bass Department has been important to Finley over the years. "We were laughing at the awards ceremony because every time one of the other departments gave out an award there was always a handshake," says Finley. "And when the Bass Department gave out an award, there were hugs all around. We're just a big, happy family."
But that's not the only extra family Finley's acquired here at Berklee. "After meeting the Wehmillers and feeling their energy and their passion for Berklee I feel like I'm part of the family," says Finley. "I think I got the best scholarship that Berklee offers, because not only do I get the monetary part, but I get a relationship with two very special people that I'll have for the rest of my life."