Kabul-Philly connection helps Afghan teen trumpet player win spot at Interlochen

 David Bilger is principal trumpeter of the Philadelphia Orchestra. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

David Bilger is principal trumpeter of the Philadelphia Orchestra. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The Philadelphia Orchestra’s principle trumpet player has been mentoring a teenager in war-torn Afghanistan over the Internet. Now he’s helped the 17 year-old get into a prestigious American music school.

A year and a half ago, David Bilger received Facebook message from AhmedBaset Azizi, then 16, whom he had never met.

“He introduced himself as the best trumpet player in Afghanistan, because there are only two,” said Bilger.

As the principle trumpet player with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Bilger often takes on students over the Internet. This one stood out because there are no professional trumpet players in Afghanistan. There is literally no one there to teach Azizi how to play.

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Five years ago Azizi entered the Afghanistan National Institute of Music because he had an interest in music, but was not focused on any instrument. His teachers handed him an object that was totally foreign: a trumpet.

“I was not happy with the trumpet,” said Azizi during a Skype call from Kabul. “I never seen or heard the trumpet before. What is this? I don’t want to play. I want to play piano.”

After week, he was hooked.

trumpetx600Ahmedbaset Azizi, at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music, recording an audition tape for Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan. (Image via AhmadbasetAziziAurutunianConcerto/Youtube)

Playing the trumpet in Afghanistan is not easy. First of all, it’s loud. His parents do not let him practice at home.

“Sometimes I want to play trumpet at home when my father is not in,” said Azizi.

Secondly, it’s dangerous.

The Taliban does not like music of any kind, and Western music in particular. The radical Islamic group has increased its presence in Afghanistan. Last year, a suicide bomber targeted the head of Afghanistan National Institute of Music, Ahmed Naser Samast. He was not killed, but lost much of his hearing in the blast. He is also a trumpet player.

Right now, the best teacher Azizi has is the Internet. He downloads music to learn, researches playing techniques, and solicits help from major players around the world by making recordings and emailing them to people like Bilger.

“Given the fact he has had such limited training, he’s good,” said Bilger. “I would love to see him be great.”

With coaching from Bilger, Azizi was been accepted into the prestigious music school in Michigan, Interlochen Arts Academy, as a high school senior with a partial scholarship. To help meet the rest of the cost, Bilger is also using the Internet — he started a crowdfunding campaign with the website GoFundMe.

So far, it has attracted the support of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s board chair Richard Worley, and its music director Yannick Nezet Seguin. Each has donated $5,000.

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