Alumni Spotlight: David Pressley
What year(s) did you march in the Blue Knights?
I aged-out with the Blue Knights in 1984 after my first corps, The Memphis Blues, folded in 1983.
Hornline – Soprano Bugle.
Where did you attend high school?
Mountain Heritage High School in Burnsville, NC.
Education beyond high school?
– Bachelors Degree in Music Education from Mars Hill (NC) College in 1985
– Masters Degree in School Counseling from the University of Maryland in 1994.
– Basic Bandsman Course at the Armed Forces School of Music at Little Creek, VA in June 1990. THAT was a different sort of education!
What is your current occupation?
I am a School Counselor at North Henderson High School in Hendersonville, NC.
Why did you choose to march with the Blue Knights?
The short (and insufficient) answer is because the Blue Knights were going on tour to California in 1984. I had already been involved in the drum corps activity with the Memphis Blues, a corps that had by 1982 seemed to be a real “up and comer”. I enjoyed being a part of that corps (the first time the flags did a toss over our rotating horn form we knew it was REAL drum corps!) and I had every intention of aging-out there. However, the money ran out and “My first corps was finished before I was finished with drum corps”.
With only one season remaining, I wanted to find a corps where I might have a good age-out experience. Because they had been my earliest favorite corps, I took the train to Boston to attend a 27th Lancers audition camp in January 1984. They were a proud corps that had come within just tenths of a point of winning DCI in 1980 but by 1984 had slipped and were barely hanging in as a low top 12 corps. What I found there was a rock-solid veteran drum line BUT only 40 or so mostly inexperienced brass players.
It was a corps that would struggle all summer to field even a small mid-50’s sized horn line and one that would barely edge into finals solely on the strength of that drum line. For the entire 16-hour train ride back to North Carolina I was second-thinking whether or not I wanted to attend the Lancers February camp. Those fantastic percussionists were going to rag on the horn line all summer and that was not the way I wanted my DCI Performer career to end.
Twenty hours after leaving Boston I walked into my family home in Western North Carolina and put my luggage down. Before I even had the chance to share my misgivings with my parents, the phone rang. It was a close friend who had been a member of the administrative team at Memphis. He had just been hired by the Blue Knights and was working his way down the Memphis roster looking for people who might be interested in coming out to Colorado to march. We talked for at least 20 minutes catching up and discussing other former Memphians who might be interested.
Finally, my friend asks “Bottom line, we know your work ethic and we know your playing ability. What is going to take to get you here?” The idea of marching with the Blue Knights with a number of people I already knew was appealing BUT I wanted a little time to weigh my options. I bought the time I needed by asking “Do you have the tour schedule yet?” At that time the tour schedule was generaly set at the February DCI meeting in Chicago and my friend confirmed that it would be about three more weeks before he had a tour schedule.
I said “Let me know when you have it. IF the Blue Knights are going to California, I will come march with you.” So, in part I chose the Blue Knights because the Blue Knights were going to California.
What is your favorite drum corps memory?
I was fortunate to continue ‘playing drum corps’ well into adulthood spending some 20 summers touring with half a dozen corps and I have many “favorite” memories. I met the girl who is now my wife on tour with the Florida Wave in 1987. I experienced an incredible joyride in 1993 with a bunch of mostly small town kids when the Colts seemingly came out of nowhere to break into finals. There is one particular memory that jumps out today……ask tomorrow and a different one will.
In 1998 I was driving a Colts member bus westbound across Nebraska. I had not had much sleep the last couple of days and the miles were starting to catch up with me. I was even feeling a little sorry for myself because each time I had been back for Drums Along the Rockies I was running into fewer and fewer of the people I had marched with.
Around 2:00am one of the members, a contra player, crawled up from the rear of the bus. He settled in on the top step and stared out at I-80 for a couple of minutes. Ogallala 1 mile. The member had come to the Colts that season from a recently folded D-III corps in Arkansas.
After a few minutes he asked “If it were daylight, do you think we could see the Rockies from here?”
I answered “Not yet. Maybe another couple of hours.”
I mentioned that I had driven out for Drums Along the Rockies many times BUT that I had never driven this part of the trip in daylight. He began to talk about his five summers in the Delta Brigade and how he would have liked to age-out there. He was, however, really enjoying the experience he was having with us…
Then he added, “And through the entire five years I have always wanted to march at Drums Along the Rockies. I’ve never even been to Colorado before and now in my age-out year I finally get to do this.”
His excitement and his anticipation was simply electric. A couple of more times as we kept moving westward he asked if I thought we could see the mountains yet.
And then he says “Can you understand my feelings?”
I answered “Absolutely. I wanted to march at Drums Along the Rockies so I joined the Blue Knights.”
We chatted about drum corps…… and places where you got to go while you were in drum corps for a bit. He nodded off a couple of times but stayed on the top step the rest of the night so that he could have his first glimpse of the mountains come daybreak.
How have the Blue Knights impacted your life?
As a result of having performed with the Blue Knights, I am a more confidant and capable adult. When I began to think about earning a Masters Degree and how I might make that happen, I decided in 1989 to audition for the US Army Bands program. I passed the audition and after completing Basic Training and the Armed Forces School of Music Basic Course, spent much of the next two years playing trumpet with the US Army’s 101st Airborne Division Band at Ft. Campbell, KY. My military service did include a 9 month deployment to Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Storm. The military service led to my completing a Masters Degree. The Masters Degree has led to the career I have pursued now for 24 years. It would be safe to say that my Blue Knights and Drum Corps experiences are one of the cornerstones in the foundation my life is built upon.
What are some the Blue Knights’ core values/principles that have resonated with you in life?
Back in the day when I was marching we did not talk about core values and principles. These things were, and have continue to be, there all along though. We talked about things like bringing our best effort every day. We talked about pushing through and not giving up when things were not working as well as we might have expected them too. We talked about doing everything better in the next performance and that going forward we talked in terms of anything less than our most recent best performance no longer being acceptable. Gradually it dawned on us – some sooner than others – that we were not just talking about that 12-minute thing called ‘the show’. We were being handed the tools for success in EVERYTHING.
Marriage? Listen. Communicate. Respond accordingly. It is not an accident that my wife is a drum corp alumnus.
School and/or Career? Show up everyday. Bring your best attitude and effort EVERY day. This part works with surviving military Basic Training too.
The things I was taught to do for ‘the show’ have helped me over and over again. In Basic Training. Performing In grad school. On tour with other corps. In my marriage. With my daughter. Everything.
What advice would you tell someone considering trying out for the Blue Knights?
Beyond the obvious “prepare appropriately” and bring your best effort and attitude, this question interests me because I regularly talk with students who are considering trying out for drum corps. The conversation I have with them living in North Carolina is much different from the conversation I would have if we were in Colorado….. or Texas….. or Illinois.
Our high school is fortunate to have one of the best band directors in the state and our students are achieving at a level one would not expect from a 950 student school in the rural Western North Carolina. We have had students who marched with Spirit of Atlanta, Jersey Surf, Boston Crusaders, Troopers, Cavaliers, and Carolina Crown. Admittedly that last one was three years removed from high school, majoring in music at a nearby university, and had spent a season with the Boston Crusaders.
Our kids walk in the door wanting to aim high and to talk about trying out for Carolina Crown. I encourage them with suggestions to prepare for the audition camp. We talk about being success-oriented and core values which are true across the entire activity. THEN I change gears and ask what happens if the student is not called back by their dream corps.
Very often the answer from the student is “I will work harder to prepare and try again next year.” That’s a commendable attitude BUT many students say that and wind up never marching. The gospel I preach, if you will, is that there is so much life value to be realized by marching in a drum corps. Any drum corps. I ask students whether they would consider marching somewhere else. Yes. Work hard. Prepare better. Try out for Carolina Crown again BUT what if you have a season or two experience with someone like the Blue Stars…… or Boston….. or name any corps from 8th place to 20th? In this way our band director and I have played a role in getting some of our most enthusiastic students involved in drum corps and, frankly, that’s the thing that keeps me in contact with the activity today. I am so much more attuned to the program development and the scores in seasons where one of our students is marching and I have a rooting interest.
What are you looking forward to most about the 2018 Alumni Corps celebrating our programs’ 60th and 25th anniversaries?
I look forward to seeing people that I marched with who were bold enough to sign up. I look forward to be inspired by some alumni older than myself who have also signed up. I look forward to meeting some younger alumni and being amazed at what spectacular things they are doing with their lives. I am looking forward to one night of stepping back inside the activity.
Over the years I have seen other organizations doing various alumni corps projects and wished that the Blue Knights would do something similar. A 60th Anniversary is the perfect reason.
How would you like to see other Blue Knight alumni get involved in the organization?
I need to claim “Geographically Challenged” on this question. Having always lived east of the Mississippi River (except for a few summers in Dubuque, IA where I at least could still see the river), I have not been near enough Colorado to more adequately engaged myself. I’m really not in a position to say how I wuld like to see others involved.
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