Cleburne High School 2016 graduate Rachel Parker picked up the tuba in sixth grade and has never put it down.
The former Miss Golden Pride is now a music education major at Texas A & M-Commerce and is performing this summer with the Blue Knights Drum and Bugle Corps, one of the most recognized ensembles in the performance world of Drum Corps International.
Parker auditioned last fall for the Blue Knights, which is based out of Denver, and quickly found herself immersed in an intense spring practice schedule in preparation for their 2017 summer performance tour.
“This is something Rachel has wanted to do since high school,” her mother, Alice Parker, said. The Parkers will be in Denton Thursday night at the DCI contest featuring the Blue Knights along with fellow well-knowns including the Santa Clara Vanguards, Blue Devils, Phantom Regiment and the Bluecoats.
The north Texas performance will be the second time the Parkers have seen their daughter in action. They attended the Blue Knights’ Denver performance at Mile High Stadium and will be traveling to San Antonio to catch Saturday’s DCI Southwestern Championship at the Alamodome.
Rachel will actually have a fan base at Saturday’s performance as the leadership team from the CHS Golden Pride Band will also be in attendance.
“These students were freshmen when Rachel was a senior,” Assistant Director Brock Feller said. “Rachel was a leader and highly respected member of the Golden Pride and these kids are so excited to see her perform. We make a big deal out of DCI with our band members. It is the top, professional level of marching band—well beyond what is done in high school and college programs--and Rachel is in one of the elite units.”
Feller says she will be easy to spot among the sea of brass, percussion and color guard performers on the field.
“She’s always been the short player carrying the big tuba,” he said. “It’s so great to be taking our students to see one of their own doing something like this. She isn’t the first member of the Golden Pride to perform with a DCI unit—two of our recent graduates, Gavin James and Mason Sweeney were in ensembles. But she is the first student I’ve had march in DCI. She is doing such a great job in college, in the music program and now this.”
Feller is hoping Parker will have a chance to visit with the Cleburne band members, to add to what they will be taking away as participants in Student Leadership Day at the Texas Band Masters State Convention. The Golden Pride leadership team will be attending workshops and clinics led by experts in the music field.
“I hope Rachel will have a few minutes to talk to our kids about this experience and the importance of putting in hard work and commitment as leaders and members of the Golden Pride,” he said. “If we had an All-Star Band featuring our greatest players, Rachel would be an obvious choice. At first we were concerned about the challenges of her marching with the tuba, but she out-performed and out-worked everyone. She just embraces the grind. She’s committed, wants to be great and knows how to work.”
Alice Parker agrees there was some concern as to whether their petite daughter could physically manage the tuba, from the time when she chose it in the sixth grade. Rachel was inspired by her older, tuba-playing brother, Caleb.
“We initially thought her size would work against her,” Parker said. “She’s 19 and 5’1, and was maybe even a little shorter when she started out. But she picked it up and has never had a problem. I think she really wanted to follow in her brother’s footsteps.”
“This is so exciting for us, and her,” Parker said. “As a parent, it’s like your child is a baseball player and they are a starter in the major leagues. Her college marching director encourages participation in DCI—Texas A & M-Commerce has one of the few college bands that marches in the DCI style. There are about 40 kids in their band program who are members of DCI performing units. Rachel has a friend who was in the Blue Knights last year and encouraged her to audition. They had 1,500 audition this year and 150 were accepted. They are currently ranked seventh in the world.”
Rachel says being a member of the Blue Knights is the most physically challenging thing she has ever done, and has given her some “amazing” performance opportunities.
“During spring training we would wake up at 7:30 in the morning and get back to bed at 11:30 that night,” she said. “We would have three rehearsal blocks a day, each one lasting about four hours. Now that we’re on tour, the schedule varies, depending on how long we drive and whether we have a show. Sometimes we do a lot of sleeping on the bus—other times on gym floors.”
The Blue Knights’ performing tour began in late May on the west coast and is slowly moving its way across the country. One of Rachel’s favorite moments on the tour occurred in Ogden, Utah.
“We were warming up for the show and a group of blind kids came by and talked to us about our tubas,” she said. “We let them touch them and we played for them. It was a very special moment for me, really for all of us.”
As one of two female members on the Blue Knights Contra (bass tuba) line, Parker also seeks opportunities to inspire other girls to take up the tuba. She is the only female tuba player in the A & M-Commerce Pride Marching Band.
“Knowing that I may be inspiring or encouraging female tuba players is the best feeling ever,” she said. “I remind myself of that any time I’m having a rough day.”
With several weeks and multiple contest performances still ahead, and her sophomore year of college right behind, Parker has already decided to audition for the Blue Knights again in 2018.
“I remember seeing the Blue Knights in person in 2014 and falling in love with their style,” she said. “I’ve gotten to perform for thousands of people and work with so many great brass staff members. I feel so loved by everyone here and I couldn’t imagine myself anywhere else.”
“I’m already looking forward to next year with the Blue Knights,” she said. “It’s going to be their 60th anniversary, so it should be a great year.”
The Blue Knights 2017 tour will end on August 12 at the DCI World Championships in Indianapolis. Rachel’s parents will be among those in attendance.
Cleburne High School 2016 graduate and Golden Pride Band member Rachel Parker, now a student at Texas A & M Commerce, is spending the summer on tour as a member of the Blue Knights Drum and Bugle Corps. She will have a fan base at Saturday’s Drum Corps International contest at the Alamodome with her parents, and leadership team members from the CHS Golden Pride Band, in attendance. (Photo-David Beans)