MSU’s Empower Extraordinary Video Features College of Music Student

Haitian trumpeter defies physical challenges to play music and earn scholarship at MSU.

Carlot Dorvé practices with the trumpet section during an MSU Symphony Orchestra rehearsal
Carlot Dorvé, shown far right with his family, is from Haiti. Carlot lost his arm to an infection when he as five years old.

Carlot Dorvé lost his right arm to a childhood accident but he never lost his drive to be as good as he could be.

That will to succeed, he says, came from his mother—a woman who raised five children in poverty in a two-room house in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

“My mom encouraged me to do everything without exception,” Dorvé says. “I didn’t want to be someone with a disability. When people told me no, I kept trying and knew I could prove them wrong.”

Today, the 30-something Dorvé is a sought-after musician who plays the trumpet with just one hand. He performs for community and church events, studies trumpet as a scholarship recipient at the MSU College of Music, and serves as an inspiration to others as he shares his story. In between, Dorvé mentors young musicians in his homeland, traveling several times a year to Haiti to teach kids and young teens with physical challenges.

“I save money from gigs to do this from my own pocket because it means something to me,” Dorvé says. “If I didn’t have a mother who taught me I am not different, I wouldn’t be who I am today.”

Video courtesy of MSU. Support students like Carlot, see the Empower Extraordinary Campaign in action.

Looking forward, looking back

Dorvé reflects that his life may have gone in other directions if he had grown up with two arms. What would he have become, he wonders, if he hadn’t slipped and broke his arm when he was 5 years old? What would life have been like if his arm hadn’t become infected and needed to be amputated? Would he have stayed in Haiti? Become a merchant like his mother? Would he have even been drawn to play music?

One thing Dorvé does know: living life with just one arm caused him to think, to question perceptions, and to put everything he had into overcoming the dual challenges of poverty and physical disability.

“Music became my way to show I could do whatever I wanted in life,” Dorvé says. “It became a tool to open people’s mind that I was more than a person with a disability.”

Dorvé saw other kids playing instruments in the streets and at the school he attended. He asked if he could play one, too. He was told no because he had just one arm. But Dorvé didn’t listen. In fact, he persisted.

From the time he was age 9 to 13, Dorvé asked his teachers and wouldn’t take no for an answer. After four years, he was given a chance and a trumpet. He never let up, practicing twice as hard as other students, perfecting the ability to glide his fingers across the valves as he held the instrument with his pinkie and thumb.

Dorvé became a solid musician, earned a scholarship to high school, and went on to play with Haiti’s largest orchestra. He became a teacher at the Holy Trinity School of Music, and in 2010, was invited along with four other teachers for a four-month exchange program at Mott Community College in Flint, Michigan.

“I always knew that I had to do more than someone with two arms, that I had to do something amazing,” Dorvé says. “So it was a dream come true for me to study music.”

Corlot Dorvé regularly visits is Haitian homeland to teach mentor youth on music and overcoming challenges.

Music as motivator

As a guest musician at Mott, Dorvé performed at colleges, schools, churches and at events around the state. En route, he heard about the College of Music at MSU, and was encouraged to audition.

Professor Rich Illman, now retired, was among the faculty who heard Dorvé play, and was immediately taken by Dorvé’s emotion and commitment.

“He’s a very musical and passionate player,” Illman says. “His determination to be a good trumpet player has served him well. It's hard to imagine what he’s had to do his whole life to convince others he could be a professional trumpet player.”

College of Music Dean James Forger was equally moved by Dorvé’s will to succeed, and his intense commitment to his music, his studies, and to MSU.

“Carlot epitomizes the power of music to overcome challenges, heal wounds, and bring people together,” says Forger. “Our ability to support students like Carlot through scholarship strengthens MSU's presence as a leading musical institution that not only develops incredible talent, but that gives back to the local and world communities.” 

Dorvé was accepted on scholarship into MSU's trumpet performance program with Illman as his primary teacher. The College of Music provided more than $15,000 in scholarship funds toward his tuition. To cover his living expenses, Dorve has played gigs, several with Illman. A Mother's Day performance at Hartford Memorial Baptist Church in Detroit resulted in the congregation volunteering to help cover Dorvé's room and board, with Dorvé going back to play occasional recitals in return. Those recitals caught the attention of Detroit journalist and broadcaster Mitch Albom who featured Dorvé on his radio show before one of Dorvé's fall performances.

Listent to WJR’s Mitch Albom Show interview with Carlot Dorvé (courtesy WJR Radio 760AM Detroit

For Dorvé, proving he could play the trumpet fueled his passion to study music.

“Sometimes I thought I was dreaming,” says Dorvé of the way things unfolded. “I was so excited when I was accepted to MSU and to hear about all the support I was receiving.”

Dorvé began in the spring of 2012 and is on course to graduate in 2016 with his bachelor’s degree. Despite his successes, he has never forgotten his homeland and the people who have helped him along the way. His musicianship, he says, is based on expressing that gratitude, as well as in giving a voice to others who experience challenges and hardships.

Over two years, Dorvé has returned to Haiti a half dozen or more times to teach in the special needs school he attended, and in other schools for the physically challenged. His goal, he says, is to serve as a mentor and a motivator—and to show others that it is possible to overcome most anything through persistence and support.

“For a lot of people, especially in Haiti, if you can find someone who has succeeded, you don’t see it as a myth anymore,” Dorvé says. “That’s one of the reasons I have to do my best. I want to inspire others to show that nothing is impossible, and that determination is the key to success.”

For information about how you can establish a named scholarship in the College of Music or to give to an already existing scholarship fund, contact Senior Director of Development, Rebecca Surian at or call 517-353-9872.

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