When nine orchestra and chamber ensemble students travel to Cartagena, Colombia, they’ll be showcasing their talents in concerts around the city. But there’s more to the story. This is a music tour with a mission.

The trip, which will take place Oct. 13-19, is a partnership with Fundacion Tocando Puertas Para Abrir Futuros, or the Knocking on Doors to Open Futures Foundation. Established by Evelia Gonzalez Porto, who recently served on the Virginia Commission for the Arts, the foundation aims to rebuild the social fabric of the city by fostering the talent of young Cartagena musicians.

The idea to bring Richmond students to Cartagena began at an all-Virginia orchestra concert just last year. Alexander Kordzaia, music director of the University of Richmond’s orchestra, was conducting the ensemble when he was first introduced to Porto. “We met in June and she tells me, ‘In September, you’re coming to Cartagena,’” Kordzaia says.

That first trip, Kordzaia worked with university and youth orchestras, and conducted a public concert featuring the ensembles. The experience was eye opening, even for Kordzaia, who emigrated from a similar environment in Georgia.

“You realize where we’re coming from and where they’re coming from and how different it is,” he says. “You go outside of the big city and visit the little village and there’s a music teacher who has no money, no budget, nothing. He’s just there trying to create something, to have an orchestra and give these students instruments.”

When Kordzaia returned, he and Joanne Kong, coordinator of Richmond’s chamber ensembles, immediately set to work planning a return visit — this time with Richmond students. The group will hold master classes for the Colombian students, and perform alongside Cartagena students and professional musicians in chamber ensembles. At the end of the week, Richmond and Cartagena musicians will perform in a large orchestral concert at the Teatro Adolfo Mejia, the site of many important concerts, film premieres, theatrical productions, and lectures.

The group also is bringing a donation of eight instruments for the youth orchestra, including a cello, a clarinet, two saxophones, two violins, a trombone, and a French horn. “A lot of these young musicians don’t have these instruments and it really opens up many opportunities for them,” Kong says. “It gives them a way to express themselves and hook into their creativity. Plus, of course, studying an instrument enables one to acquire discipline and learn how to focus. For some of these young musicians, it could change their lives because they’re learning something that’s really important and meaningful.”

While there’s a clear focus on supporting the music community in Cartagena, Porto, Kordzaia, and Kong also see the experience as a positive one for Richmond students. Kong says the expectations for the performance are high, and the students had to commit to an intensive rehearsal schedule that began in January. “They’ll see the value of how one sets a long-term goal, what you have to do to get to that goal and how to get to the very top level of their potential,” she says.

But they also see an opportunity for cultural understanding and relationship building that perhaps music, as a universal form of expression, is particularly suited to offer.

“We want our students to see how two worlds meet,” Kordzaia says. “To experience something like this, it just changes your life and your perspective. That was the idea for our students to have the chance to go there, see how they live, and how seriously they take music and art.”

Follow the Cartagena tour blog for performances and student reflections on their experience.