A talented young classical trumpeter is caught in a war-torn country that sometimes rejects, and even punishes, musicians. He has an opportunity to study in America, but affording it seemed impossible — that is, until a few Americans, including one Lake Highlands resident, made it their business to help him.

Music student

Music student Ahmad Azizi Baset

Ahmad Azizi Baset, a 17-year old musician, has been accepted to the prestigious, selective and expensive Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan for the fall 2016 semester, which would be his senior year of high school, but he faces staggering obstacles in affording the opportunity. He’s no stranger to challenges — his training to date has been riddled with them. The teenaged classical trumpeter was born and raised in Kabul Afghanistan. Many in his culture historically have frowned upon classical musicians, or worse. Popular music is now enjoyed on the radio in the streets of Kabul but more conservative followers of his country’s presiding Islamic religion consider music and the playing of it Haram (forbidden). By extremists such as the Taliban, it is even punishable by torture or death.

Despite peril, Baset’s parents have supported his passion, which he discovered through a family member in 2011. They aim to help their son attain his objective, which is to study in America, become a professional musician and to change perceptions so musicians around the world can practice safely .

“My goal is to be the best trumpet player, so that I can be useful in our community,” he says. “I especially want to help educate the Afghan people about music and musicians, because today many Afghan music players and the majority of musicians are persecuted. I want to make people understand through educational conferences and concerts around the world, especially in parts of Afghanistan, that music and musicians are really important.”

Baset’s talent and charisma has earned him not only a spot and a scholarship at the prestigious high school, but also a band of supporters in the classical music world, including one from Lake Highlands.

Baset was attending the Afghanistan National Institute of Music when he met Lake Highlands resident Robin Korevaar, a classical musician who visited the school as a guest clinician and artist.

She was impressed not only by the young man’s talent, but also his bravery and determination to pursue a career as a musician despite the odds.

“I worked with he and his peers for a week or two and was really impressed with their aptitude and attitude,” she says. “The school prepares its students well in music but also to be global and forward-thinking Afghan citizens with a strong national identity that incorporates all tribes.”

Some of Baset’s peers and a director last year were targeted by a suicide bomber at a performance, as described in this recent New York Times article, and terrorist violence is increasing there. Fear creates a great lack when it comes to music education.

For the past year much of Baset’s private instruction on the trumpet has been through online courses, since his trumpet instructor left his school in 2014.. He is striving to make it to America, where he could study without fear.

“Life in Afghanistan is stressful and difficult, because there are many suicide bombers striking close to my home,” he notes. “In the United States, people can choose their careers and become highly qualified musicians, succeeding because of the diligence of their own efforts. In Afghanistan, that is not so … I would love the immense cultural influence that the United States has to offer with music everywhere—classical, jazz, symphonic, folk and more.”

The young Afghan has been creative and ambitious in his attempts to raise the money it would require for him to attend Interlochen. Following his audition, he received a $45,000 scholarship. But the annual tuition is $61,000. Then there are the costs of a visa, travel and other expenses. Baset’s dad works for the Ministry of Defense to support their family of five, including a daughter attending college, on $4,800 a year. Baset’s father qualifies for a loan of no more than $1000 to help pay for Interlochen, notes Korevaar. She and others are working to help him raise the rest.

Korevaar’s former colleague at the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, David Bilger, principal trumpet at the Philadelphia Orchestra, also was touched by Baset’s story, Korevaar says. He’s donated free online lessons and convinced the Philadelphia Orchestra music director to donate $5,000 toward Baset’s education.

Bilger notes that for a young musician starting out, it’s hard to practice with the constant, literal, threat of death in the air. “Baset is one of the lucky musicians living in Kabul,” he says. “He’s from a loving, supportive family. [Enrollment] at Michigan’s prestigious Interlochen [means] a better, safer future. But the cost to study there is astronomical, impossible for a person from a war-torn, third-world country.”

In addition to securing the substantial donation from the Philly Orchestra, Bilger set up a GoFundMe page, which includes information about how to make an online or mail donation to Baset’s travel and schooling.

Korevaar has pledged to be the young man’s American sponsor, provided he raises the money. She would love to make more of a financial contribution, she says, but with two children of her own in college next fall, she can only offer partial support and a home away from home for Baset — he would board at the campus in Michigan during schooldays.

Since fundraising began a few days ago, Baset has raised half of the funds needed. At this rate, we’ll get to meet him next Christmas break. He imagines the day he will land in America.

“When I get off the plane in the United States, I expect I will breathe deeply, look around and feel really good to have arrived there safe. I will thank God for giving me a place to be free to express my musical desires and free to learn all that I could about my art.”

Additionally, DFW International Community Alliance is accepting tax-deductible donations of more than $1,000 on Baset’s behalf. Those checks should be mailed to DFW International Community Alliance, 9064 Stone Creek Place, Dallas, Texas 75243 and should include “AhmadBaset Azizi/Interlochen” in the memo line. Organizers ask that those who donate this route alert Korevaar and Bilger via the GoFundMe page so they can account for your contribution there.