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Music student Zach Finnegan finds inspiration, mentors at UW-Stevens Point

For jazz studies and music education major Zach Finnegan, choosing University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point was the best decision he's made. It has paved a path of opportunities and professional connections. 

As he prepares to graduate in May 2018, the Weston native counts himself lucky to be following in the footsteps of his three mentors – his father, D.C. Everest High School band director Joe Finnegan, and two music professors at UW-Stevens Point.

"My two biggest role models, other than my dad, have been my professors, Brent Turney and Matt Buchman," he said. "Throughout my education, they have shown me how I can both teach and perform at a high level. They've opened doors for me and provided me with so many opportunities to perform and grow as a musician."

Thanks to his professors, Finnegan spent this past summer in intense study of music. He attended the International Trumpet Guild conference in Hershey, Pa. One day later, he was in Brevard, N.C., for a second year at the Jazz Institute for two weeks.

He also spent a week at the Chicago Jazz Institute, studying with some of the best jazz musicians in the city, and served as a counselor at UW-Madison's Music Clinic for junior high and high school students. 

These opportunities would not have been possible without Turney and Buchman helping him find scholarships, writing letters of recommendation, planning for travel and pushing him to take advantage of all of these experiences, he said.

In addition, Buchman, helped Finnegan's jazz quintet, Omnos, book a performance at the Riverfront Jazz Fest in Stevens Point where they opened for well-known jazz saxophonist Dave Liebman. He has played with Turney's Central Wisconsin Jazz Ensemble on several occasions.

Both professors said they share every aspect of their careers in their classrooms, from the technical and musical skills to the importance of practicing, reading, listening critically, people skills, goal setting, time management and the struggles and joys of being an artist in today's society.

"Zach has confirmed that through hard work and excellent networking skills, membership to the national community of professional musicians doesn't have to wait until after graduation," said Buchman, who performs regularly in jazz and commercial bands around the state.

It was Turney who plays with orchestras and brass ensembles in Milwaukee and Madison and for Broadway traveling shows who first approached Finnegan at a high school jazz ensemble event in Madison. As a young trumpet player, Finnegan didn't realize this would be the start of a mentoring relationship that would change the course of his career.

"He came to me and offered to give me lessons at UW-Stevens Point," he said. "Here's this world-class musician, making me feel welcome. Then when I toured the UW-Stevens Point campus, I didn't feel like just another number. They really wanted me to study here. I'm so happy I did." 

Finnegan widened his musical experiences at UW-Stevens Point as president of the Jazz Society, working with the group to bring guest performers to campus and take trips to hear professional musicians.  

As a jazz honors intern, Finnegan works for the UW-Stevens Point jazz area, Central Wisconsin Symphony Orchestra jazz group and Boys and Girls Club teaching group music classes twice a week. He also works at the Noel Fine Arts Center music laboratory and helps manage the center's Michelsen Concert Hall. He performs regularly with Omnos at the Scarabocchio Art Museum, Central Wisconsin jazz festivals, clubs and restaurants.

"Zach is one of those rare special students who seem to have the entire skill set for being a very successful performer," said Turney. "He is always joyful, entrepreneurial, highly motivated, ambitious without being off-putting, and he connects with his audience musically and personally."

Musicianship is in his blood, Finnegan said. With his dad as a music teacher and his four siblings all playing instruments, the house is never quiet, he said. The family has also performed together in a worship band at their church.

"My dad never pushed us to play," said Finnegan, "but he's supported me and encouraged me once he realized how committed I was. Now we are band geeks together. He's a great resource for me."

Currently applying to graduate schools, Finnegan hopes to earn his master's degree and teach at the university level, while performing regularly like his professors.

"Making the decision to come to UW-Stevens Point when I was 17 was the best decision I've made," he said. "I would not trade my experiences for the world. My lifelong friends are also my professors. As world class teachers, performers and people, my mentors have shown me what I can be in my ideal job – a professor, a performer and a family man."

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