David Bilger, a Philadelphia orchestra principal trumpeter, received a friend request on Facebook from Ahmed Baset Azizi around a year and a half ago. What appeared as a simple notification at the time took a life-changing turn when the 17-year-old Kabul musician sent him a message asking if he could study music with Bilger online.
"He sent me a Facebook message that was actually hilarious," Bilger said. "He introduced himself and said he was the best trumpet player in Afghanistan - because there are only two."
Bilger, who agreed to the request, now swaps videos lessons with Azizi on a monthly basis, sometimes many times a month. The teacher said his student's "current level is competitive with the best high school players in the U.S.”
Living in Afghanistan has led the teenager to witness many bombings and killings from a young age. "Believe me, every day the old mothers and fathers cry for the loss of their kids," he said via e-mail. "A while ago I was thinking that they would just kill old people, and young people they would not kill, because they are still children. But no, I was wrong."
Terrorist groups in the country have a hostile attitude towards Western culture and music and thus Azizi’s school no longer even has a music teacher.
However, the enthusiastic young boy auditioned via video for Interlochen Arts Academy and is now all set to spent his last year of high school In Northwest Michigan, starting this fall. Although the institution has given him a decent scholarship, Azizi still needs to gather sufficient finances to pay for the rest of the program.
Bilger is not only giving free music lessons to the teen but has also helped setup a GoFundMe campaign raising more than $18,000 toward a $30,000 goal - including a large amount that was contributed by Philadelphia Orchestra music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
"Dave Bilger's thoughtful and committed way of explaining Baset's story immediately resonated with me, and I did not hesitate for a second to make a contribution," said Nézet-Séguin.The determination of this young man, his obvious love for his instrument and for the music, this is clearly stronger than all the incredible challenges he's had to overcome in order to fulfill his dream. This is very inspiring for me, and for all of us who believe in the power of music."
Azizi who began practicing music five years ago states that his journey in the field became rather hard as people consider it “harram” or “forbidden.”“Life became harder for me, because in Afghanistan people don't like to play or listen to music,” he says. They make jokes if they know a person is a musician - one group may say, 'If I know this is a musician I will cut off their head.' I can say life for a musician here is such a hard thing."
The aspiring musician who has never been to the U.S. looks forward to pursuing his dream of music there. "My goal is to be well-educated and to be the best trumpet player, so that I can be useful in the community," Azizi said. "It doesn't matter where I was born or where I got my education, but my goal is to serve anywhere with any people, regardless of nationality, race, or color. I will help the people who are like myself, who need help to study."