While 150 of his fellow corps members traveled into Rosemont, Ill. experiencing a chilling zero degree Chicago winter last weekend, Cavaliers percussionist Alex Harmon bypassed the corps' monthly rehearsal camp by more than 3,000 miles on his way to the even colder Fairbanks, Alaska. Harmon, a percussion performance major at the University of Kentucky (UK) in Lexington, was on his way to take part in a three-day music festival at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF). As a member of the Cavaliers' front ensemble since 2005, Harmon, 20, led corps members as the group's drum sergeant in 2007 and this year was named by corps management as assistant drum major. Details for his trip came together after the University of Kentucky percussion ensemble was asked to perform a concert in the fall as part of the Percussive Arts Society International Convention in Ohio. Performing with the group, Harmon had the chance to catch up afterward with UAF professor of percussion Morris Palter. Having conducted a master class and solo concert at UK the previous spring, Palter encouraged Harmon to consider visiting the Alaskan university in February to perform as part of their annual event; a music fest that brings in artists and composers from around the world. Working with James Campbell, the University of Kentucky's director of percussion studies, Harmon was able to apply for grants to help subsidize the cost of the trip and make it a reality.
While in Alaska, a first-time destination for this veteran corps member who has traveled tens of thousands of miles over the last three years with the Cavaliers, Harmon performed as part of UAF's annual New Music Festival. During the three-day series of concerts, he premiered a work by Cavaliers percussion arranger and composer Jim Casella for djembe (a hand drum with origins in Africa) and electronics, in addition to playing with other UAF percussion ensembles and guest artists. Leaving mild 60 degree weather in Lexington on Wednesday, Harmon said that preparing for a more than 100 degree temperature difference was a bitter shock. He reported the weather in Fairbanks as a "mind numbing" negative 43 degrees. "I took a walk around the UAF hiking trails on Friday afternoon, and when I got back in after about four miles my eyelashes had ice hanging on them." Fairbanks is located in the heart of Alaska's interior and known for its long winters. Despite the subarctic temperatures, however, Harmon says that he wouldn't have traded the experience for anything. "The entire UAF percussion studio was fantastic and extremely friendly. They welcomed me in and made me feel like I was a part of their group for the few days I was there. Having the opportunity to make this trip and perform was a great honor."
Outside of his other performance obligations with the University of Kentucky, Harmon will be back to the drum corps grind in Rosemont at the beginning of March for the Cavaliers' next scheduled rehearsal camp. "The upcoming season is promising to be a great experience for me and every member of the Cavaliers," he said. "The guys are really pumped, and the design team and staff members are fired up for the new season." And maybe after a long summer touring with the Cavaliers, Harmon will be up for another trip to the United States' northernmost state. "I am rather involved with outdoor sports like climbing and snowboarding. Alaska is kind of a playground for that," Harmon said. "I wish I could have stayed longer, but I guess that's reason for another trip in the future!"