Carlot Dorvé, an accomplished trumpet player, has enjoyed success in the world of music in spite of a daunting childhood and a formidable handicap. Both his playing and life story are serving as an inspiring example to many.
Carlot was the second child of six born to Calvaire and Genevive Ferdinand Jean- Baptiste Dorvé, a poverty-stricken family in Petit-Goave, Haiti, and raised in Port-au-Prince. At the age of five he severely injured his right arm when he fell from a tree while visiting his grandmother.
Unfortunately, she feared the reaction of his mother and concealed the injury, which led to an infection and a visit to a herb healer who treated him by tying leaves around his arm with a string for fifteen days, cutting off the circulation. He was forbidden to remove the string and his arm began to die as gangrene developed, making it necessary to amputate his arm to save his life.
When he was seven his mother became a Seventh-day Adventist, and nine years later he joined the church. Because disabled children were not allowed to attend the public schools, he attended St. Vincent’s, a school for disabled children. In spite of the taunts from other students, he excelled and became proficient in French, Creole, and English.
He loved music and the celebratory street sounds in Port-Au-Prince, where fanfares from trumpets were a common feature. This cultural influence, combined with his listening to recordings of trumpet music and becoming inspired by performances of the Carnival of Venice: Fantasie, Theme and Variations by Jean-Baptiste Arban and other virtuoso pieces, led to his determination to play the instrument.
After four years of failed attempts to persuade the music teacher at his school to let him try to play, a visiting teacher convinced the teacher to let twelve-year-old Carlot have a chance. Within a year he had learned how to hold and play the instrument with his left arm by holding it with his thumb and smallest finger while depressing the valves with his middle three fingers.
He practiced incessantly, becoming the best player in the group at his music school and a teacher of his fellow students. His success led to a scholarship to attend high school. He became the youngest member to play in Haiti’s Philharmonic Orchestra of Saint Trinity, the country’s best and largest orchestra, at the Holy Trinity School of Music, where he became principal chair in the trumpet section and a teacher at the school.
At this time, the family’s plight worsened when their father deserted the family and his mother in desperation began to search for food on a daily basis. One evening she did not return, and the children never heard from her again. Because of the political instability in Haiti at that time it was presumed that she had been shot, and buried. Carlot joined with his older brothers to support their younger siblings.
In 2010 Dorvé along with three other music teachers from Haiti was invited to participate in a four-month cultural exchange program at Mott Community College in Flint, Michigan. A week after his arrival in the U.S., Haiti was devastated by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake in which his music school was completely demolished and many of his friends and former students and teachers perished. He was distraught to the point of weeping and being unable to eat and wondered if he would lose his mind. This traumatic experience, however, did not lessen his faith or belief in God’s leadings or his resolve to witness for his faith.
He and two of his musician friends decided to extend their stay in the U.S. when the program at MCC ended. Within a year after arriving in Flint, he had become a local sensation and as word spread about his playing, he began to perform elsewhere in Michigan and the Midwest and then on the East Coast. He was able to study with trumpet master teacher Wilmer Wise in New York for five weeks, taking two lessons a week. During that time he met and played for Wynton Marsalis.
Michigan State University trumpet professor Richard Illman was contacted by an anonymous caller who encouraged him to listen to Dorvé. He and the College of Music Dean James Forger were so impressed with a subsequent audition that they offered him a full music tuition scholarship that has provided him more than $15,000 to pursue a degree in trumpet performance.
He enrolled at MSU in the spring of 2012 and will graduate in the spring of 2016. The contact with Marsalis led to an ongoing correspondence that continues to the present and his paying for Dorvé’s room and board during his study at MSU.
In addition to the teaching and encouragement provided by Wise, Marsalis, and Illman, he has also been inspired by and benefitted from his contact with Robert Levy, nationally known trumpet performer and teacher, formerly with Lawrence University in Wisconsin; and masterclasses under Janet Anthony, Melvin Butler, and others.
To help pay for his living expenses he has performed many concerts and recitals featuring classical, church, and jazz music, some of them with Illman. Following a performance at the Hartford Memorial Baptist Church in Detroit, the congregation committed to help cover his room and board in return for future performances there.
Ever mindful of the poverty and needs in his native Haiti, Dorvé has sent as much money as possible to friends and family in his native country. He also has made numerous trips home to inspire young people there by performing and teaching aspiring but disadvantaged students.
While there have been challenges in giving performances, because of his strict Sabbath observance, he is steadfast in pursuing his religious convictions. He has shared his faith with fellow MSU students with the result that six have been baptized and another four are currently studying.
He is hoping to become one of the greatest trumpet players of our time and in so doing achieve his goal of being a significant witness for God. To this end, following graduation, Dorvé, will be pursuing an M.Div. at Andrews University in order to become a minister and improve his ability to witness for his faith, while still continuing to play his trumpet.
Sources: Interview with Carlot Dorvé, 10 March 2016; Beata Mostafavi, “From Haiti to Flint: Haitian trumpeter and amputee determined to play music and study at Michigan State University, Flint Journal, 17 April 2011; Program note, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Capitol Hill Church, Washington, D.C., 16 June 2013; Alesia Cooper, “One-armed trumpeter to be featured at concert,” The Detroit News, 7 October 2014; Laurie Snyman, “Trusting God’s Plan,” The Lake Union Herald, August 2015,19-21 and additional information forwarded to me by her on 10 March 2016; Michigan State University College of Music website; Sarah Wardell, “Music student’s heart beats with persistence,” Empower Extraordinary: The Campaign for Michigan State University, MSU website, 29 September 2015; Other online sources.