A Fresh Path through Appalachia with the Pressley Girls

Imagine falling asleep to the melodies of family members singing the music of Appalachia; the strum of guitars and banjoes and the pull of the bow across the strings of fiddles serving as your lullaby. This is exactly how Corie and Katie Pressley grew up, the music of "Pap," their grandfather, and other family members blending with that of Stamey Creek, which ran outside the girls' Brasstown, North Carolina, home. With a backdrop such as this, there's no wonder that these twins grew up to pursue their passion for playing Appalachian music.

Above are pictures of the entire Pressley family and a photo showing that Pap is there in spirit when the family plays.

"Our upbringing was not unique back in the day," says Corie, "but it is now. We grew up with our grandfather, uncle, and cousins playing every Sunday night. When we were able to, we joined them."

Not only was their family's influence important in their personal musical journeys, but so was that of the John C. Campbell Folk School also in Brasstown. "We grew up under the influence of this community being involved with other people who are interested in Appalachian culture. We realized that this is something special and not everyone's experience."

Because of these influences Katie picked up the fiddle at 14 years of age and Corie picked up the guitar at 13 years old; both learned to play music by ear. It was at about this same age that the girls began their college coursework. At 17, they pursued degrees in a tailor-made program of Appalachian studies, sustainability, and media studies, at Young Harris College in Georgia and graduated from there in two and a half years. The degree is an apt representation of who the twins have become.

Simply put, they are Appalachia, and the music they sing is about who they are. This Appalachian identity is combined with a mission to sustain the the music, culture, and all that is this way of life.

"This community, family, and land nurtured and formed us," says Katie. "Our music represents that because it's about who we are."

The Pressleys are facing the same challenges that all musicians face in determining whether or not they will be able to pursue their passion full time. "There are a couple of different routes you can follow to work in music full time," explains Corie. "You can go to the places where the people are, network, and go on the road, but you run the risk of losing something along the way. Another, less traditional route, is to hone your craft and become instructors that travel and teach others about your music and how to play it."

This is the direction that the girls are going at this time. "We want to stay put and stay close to our roots while we work on sharing this music with others and keeping it alive."

For the twins, working with your sister comes with a great deal of descriptors. Corie says that it's a unique, comical, and challenging experience that sharpens her and gives her accountability. Katie finds the experience to be exciting and a blessing. When you talk to the girls, they share these thoughts in a give-and-take, teasing style of banter that goes along perfectly with their musical personalities.

When not pursuing their musical passions, they have other hobbies. Katie loves to work with her hands as a silversmith and wants to learn more about lapidary, working with stones. Corie likes to read and crochet--she's kind of an old soul in a young body. If they could have their dream, they would be self-employed musicians, teaching, making jewelry, and doing apothecary work.

As they follow their dreams, they have some advice for other dream-followers. Katie says, "Look at what you love to do and find ways to be a part of that. Use your resources to make it part of your life. If you think that you'll have regrets for not following those things, then you should follow it. It's your life--don't hold back and don't hesitate to ask for help. You have something to share with the world."

Corie agrees with Katie's advice and adds, "Harness your motivation and decide what you really want to do. Be resourceful and confident and follow your passions.

At 23, the girls have a lot of life and a lot of music left to live and play, but, to be so young, they are sure of their calling at this time in their lives.

"This music is powerful and healing; we are honor-bound to share this music and culture with others using the gifts that God has given us."

169 views0 comments