TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- The Philadelphia Orchestra boasts one the best classical trumpet players in the country. And although David Bilger has played on stage for thousands, his most impressive performance happens his own basement, for an audience of one.
For more than a year, Bilger has been mentoring 17-year-old Baset Azizi. Baset lives 7,000 miles away in Kabul, Afghanistan. The kid found Bilger on Facebook, and got his attention by tooting his own horn.
“It started off saying, ‘I am the best trumpet player in Afghanistan – because there are only two.’ And I was immediately taken by him. I said I’ve got to read the rest of what he has to say,” Bilger said.
Baset told him all he wanted was to get better. “It’s another reason that I wanted immediately to work with this kid,” Bilger said.
So they worked together over the Internet until eventually Baset got accepted into the prestigious Interlochen Center for the Arts high school near Traverse City, Michigan.
Baset is now the most unlikely up-and-coming trumpet player in America. Unlikely because in Afghanistan, some hard-liners still think anyone playing an instrument -- especially a Western one -- should be punished.
“They don’t want music, no,” Baset said. He risked his own safety to play the instrument he loves.
Even after the director of his music school in Afghanistan was targeted by a suicide bomber, Baset played on.
“It does really highlight the power of music in people’s lives,” Bilger said.
Now, for the first time in his life, Baset says he can carry around his trumpet in. It is a liberation that he owes almost entirely to a man he never met.
Bilger not only mentored Baset, but he helped raise more than $30,000 to pay for his schooling.
Last month, Bilger flew in to meet Baset face to face. Baset still struggled for the words, but the two he finally did come up with, “thank you,” were more than ample.
As for the future, Baset says he isn’t sure where all this will lead. But regardless, he says no matter what he does, he will give back. And no matter where he lives, he will not be silenced.
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