Fish Out of Water, Part 2
In "Fish Out of Water, Part 2," "Untold Stories" brings a rich tapestry of personal narratives, each marked by a unique journey of overcoming and self-realization. This episode, recorded live at Florida Theatre, showcases storytellers from diverse backgrounds, each sharing their transformative experiences.
In her role as artistic director for 'Untold Stories,' Barbara Colaciello of BAB'S LAB combines story curation, storyteller coaching, and hosting duties to create compelling live events.
Michael Jordan, a self-taught musician living in St. Augustine, opens the episode with "Dale the Whale." His narrative, interwoven with melodic guitar strains, tells the story of the largest blue whale's struggle with loneliness and self-acceptance. Jordan's deep connection with nature and his innovative guitar techniques bring a unique dimension to his tale, echoing themes of isolation and belonging.
Arsun F!st, a Panama-born hip-hop artist and cancer survivor, recounts his intense battle with the disease. His journey through diagnosis, treatment, and eventual triumph is not just a story of survival but a powerful message about the strength of the human spirit and the importance of hope. Arsun's resilience is a reflection of his diverse life experiences, from his early years in the U.S. to his artistic and personal endeavors.
Tricia Booker, an award-winning writer, journalist, and University of North Florida writing instructor, recounts her challenges as a single mother in Ponte Vedra Beach. Her narrative explores her quest for self-identity post-divorce and the complexities of raising three adopted children in a conservative community. Tricia's expertise in storytelling and her candid, humorous approach offer insights into adaptation and self-acceptance in an environment of conformity.
Philip Pan, with a distinguished career as the Concertmaster of the Jacksonville Symphony and a background enriched by his studies at the Juilliard School, closes the episode. His transition from a classical violinist to an improvisational musician illustrates a journey of breaking free from traditional constraints and embracing musical diversity. Philip's story underscores the power of reinvention and the joy found in exploring new creative avenues.
Please note that the following transcript has been generated by automated technology. While efforts have been made to ensure accuracy, there may be errors, inconsistencies, or deviations from the original audio. We encourage listeners to refer to the actual podcast episode for complete and accurate content. This transcript is provided for convenience and may not fully capture the nuances of the spoken word.
Welcome to Untold Stories, a production
of the Florida Theater in WJCT Public Media.
Tonight's program was recorded August 6, 2022,
the theme, Fish Out of Water.
We are going to start with-- we're
bringing back Michael Jordan, OK?
Isn't he so talented?
And you probably could tell that he's really a storyteller
And this next piece that he's going to do for you
is Dale the Whale.
And it is a story, a whale of a story.
So please welcome Michael Jordan.
Yes, it's a whale of a tail.
This is about a big blue whale, the largest blue whale.
that has ever swam the earth.
And he has a hard go of things.
He doesn't make friends easily.
He's pretty lonely being the biggest blue whale.
He goes shopping, and he knocks things off the shelves,
and he has to buy them.
He's so enormous, sometimes people
think that he's a building or something other than a whale.
So this is the story of how Dale the Whale comes to love
♪ Well, I'm a big blue whale. ♪
♪ Got a big blue tail. ♪
♪ I'm a big blue whale. ♪
♪ Got a great big blue tale for all of you. ♪
♪ I'm Dale, the loneliest whale in the sea. ♪
♪ Once I played with the dolphins, jumping so high. ♪
♪ Once I tried to play with the dolphins, jumping ever so high. ♪
♪ When I lept, I came down on a pod of 25. ♪
♪ Now they don't want to play with me. ♪
♪ They said, I'm too blubbering, blundering. ♪
♪ Well, I'm so in the way. ♪
♪ Guess I'll go away. ♪
♪ I'm Dale, the loneliest whale, even though I try. ♪
♪ I'm ostracized for being oversized. ♪
♪ So after my debacle with the bottlenosed, ♪
♪ dolphins I thought I would go to the coral store. ♪
♪ Reaching for a pirate, I slipped and fell and my tail, ♪
♪ hit a wall of crystal balls. ♪
♪ Lord, I broke 'em all. ♪
♪ With them strewn about the floor. ♪
♪ Well, I slipped and fell some more ♪
♪ and brought down the whole store. ♪
♪ Now Mr. Blowfish said, I got to pay for all of this. ♪
♪ I can't come back no more. ♪
♪ Now I got a compass that don't work. ♪
♪ Yeah, and a giant pearl cracked in half. ♪
♪ Yeah, and a flattened ancient ring. ♪
♪ Yeah, and a squashed cowboy hat. ♪
♪ At I'm Dale, the loneliest whale, and I sighed. ♪
♪ A monstrous size for being super sized. ♪
♪ Well, the turtle with the purple shell he told me, good and well, ♪
♪ where to find someone as large as me, ♪
♪ Said she lives in the depths if you can see. ♪
♪ So I drifted deep into the dark until I felt her lovely. ♪
♪ Arms wrap around me. ♪
♪ I said, "A friend finally" ♪
♪ Love was not her game. ♪
♪ No to eat me was her aim. ♪
♪ So I had to slip away. ♪
♪ It was a giant squid. ♪
♪ Took a bite of my fin. ♪
♪ Now I'm swimming for my life. ♪
♪ And I'm really growing tired of being Dale, the loneliest ♪
♪ whale. And I cried. ♪
♪ A monstrous size for being monster sized. ♪
♪ So I thought I would abandon looking for a friend. ♪
♪ I'd put it on the shelf. ♪
♪ And now I'll just consult myself. ♪
♪ And after travelling here ♪
♪ and there ♪
♪ and all the while solitaire ♪
♪ my mind became clear ♪
♪ and my ears began to here. ♪
♪ A tiny little chorus singing day oh, we are here ♪
♪ I looked around pondering, what in the wandering sea could it be ♪
♪ Am I crazy, we're in the light that sparkle ♪
♪ I can see a thousand barnacles, were holding onto me ♪
♪ They wanna talk to me ♪
♪ They love it when ♪
♪ I breach ♪
♪ They tell me funny jokes ♪
♪ And introduce me to their folks ♪
♪ Now I'm Dale, the happiest whale ♪
♪ And I smile ♪
♪ 'Cause my friends were with me all the while ♪
♪ I'm Dale, the happiest whale ♪
♪ Because I know ♪
♪ That in my heart is where my best friend calls his home ♪
♪ Some say it's commensal, I say it's mutual ♪
♪ Because they keep me company ♪
♪ Now I'm satisfied with being ♪
♪ My size ♪
- Thank you so much, thank you so much.
So, first storyteller for our second half
is someone who I actually met
through a good friend of mine, Nicole Samuels.
That's her wife, that's his wife.
And it's great when you have friends
that marry neat people,
rather than they marry someone that you really don't like.
And oh well.
So, Arsun is a hip hop artist.
He is well known in Jacksonville and beyond.
And he also dabbles in,
I know I'm gonna get this wrong,
because I've been on his website,
you need to go to his website,
B-L-A-K-I-E, go to Arsun F!st website.
And he has these things with action figures.
So cool, very interesting.
So, I want you all to welcome Arsun F!st.
- Thank you so much.
- Greetings, greetings.
I'm gonna take everybody back to June 2019.
Found myself in the emergency room, Flagler Hospital.
After going through a few days
of some upper back pain and some abdominal pain.
Went through a series of tests,
did some blood work, did an EKG,
even did a couple MRIs.
The shift doctor at that time
could physically see the pain that I was in.
But none of the tests were lining up.
So he asked me, would I take one more MRI?
But this time with some contrast.
Of course I'm gonna say yes.
So while I'm sitting there with my wife Nicole,
who was my rock, my anchor, my better half,
and ultimately my best friend.
The shift doctor comes back and says, hey,
we gotta bring down an oncologist
because we don't like what we see in the scans.
And what they ended up showing us
was that every lymph node in my body was enlarged and swollen.
At this time, we went ahead and met Dr. Trikha.
He was the oncologist they called, came right down.
Very humble, reserved man.
But every step that he took in that emergency room floor,
he felt his presence.
He then proceeds to tell us that
I won't be leaving the emergency room that night.
Instead, they were gonna admit me upstairs for further testing.
So we settle into the room,
were able to go to sleep.
And that morning when I wake up,
I get prepped from my first biopsy.
Now, I never had this procedure before.
Didn't know what it entailed.
But I knew at that time,
it was a step towards figuring out what was going on with me.
So I have the biopsy,
come back to the room,
having a conversation with Nicole.
Then all of a sudden, we get a visit
from an infectious disease doctor.
Nicole looks at him and says, hey,
do you have any news on my husband's condition?
The doctor says, yeah,
your husband has cancer and then leaves.
I remember that room having a curtain in the middle.
There was another family on the other side.
And like yesterday, I can hear it.
Oh my God, so sorry about that news.
We're even more sorry in the way that it was delivered.
See, that doctor just left abruptly.
There was no follow-up,
It was just a stench of that word cancer.
And I could feel the air leaving me.
But at the same token, in the same breath,
I looked at Nicole and said,
that cancer is not going to be the end of me.
I ended up staying in the hospital for a week.
We did another biopsy.
Out of the two biopsies that were done,
nothing was shown.
Results were inconclusive.
Before I got discharged,
I got visited by a dear college friend,
who at the time, I haven't seen in about 20 years.
His name was Ian.
Ian gifted me a book.
This book is called "Becoming Supernatural"
by Joe Dispenza.
He then tells me that the pages within this book
will provide me the tools to get my mind ready
for the fight that I have to endure.
So by the time I'm discharged and I'm home,
my immediate family, Nicole's family,
and all of our closest friends know what's going on.
At the start of this, I was about 189 pounds.
After my third, and then ultimately my fourth biopsy,
I had already lost 65 pounds.
I was in really bad shape.
I couldn't move on my own.
I had a walker with tennis balls at the bottom,
so I wouldn't wake people up when I'm squeaking through the hallway.
Couldn't take a shower on my own.
Couldn't even open a refrigerator door.
This was also the time I found out that a very close friend of mine,
a brother by the name of Paten Locke, was also diagnosed with cancer.
I remember that phone call, which ended up being our last conversation.
He told me, "Arsun, I'm not going to fight this.
I'm not going to seek any experimental treatment.
Not even going to seek a second opinion.
I am ready to let this take me."
But, Arsun, you're going to beat this.
You're going to still be here.
You will be able to carry on creatively and push out those music projects that we started together.
What do I say to that?
In my mind, I know I'm about to lose a very dear friend,
but I had to suppress that grief and get my mind ready
for the fight that I had to endure.
I was completely a fish out of water.
And typically, when a fish leaves water, it dies.
But then I remembered some of the pages from Joe Dispenza's book,
and it talked about creating that visual picture in your mind
of you actually getting rid of that ailment,
pushing that disease up out of you, letting your body do what it was designed to do.
Well, when we got the results of the fourth biopsy,
our worst fears came true.
My classification was stage four.
I had a growth on my T9 vertebrae.
I had lesions at the base of my spine, and I also had a growth in my abdominal area.
Again, I knew that I wasn't going to let cancer take me.
And at that time, with that given diagnosis of T cell lymphoma,
Dr. Trikha tells me that the current chemo isn't very good,
very low rate of success and survivability.
So this is that time when that darkness creeps in.
And I start to question my own mortality.
Would I even have the strength to see this through?
A few days go by, Dr. Trikha calls up again and says, "Hey,
there's a brand new chemo therapy treatment designed specifically for T-Cell lymphoma.
That's literally six months out of FDA testing and finally got approved."
Sounds great, right?
Well, had a hurdle to jump, and that hurdle was my insurance company.
The first time we called, didn't go so well.
We called again, finally, we got that approval.
Called Dr. Trikha to tell him the news.
He then outlines my treatment plan.
He tells me, for six months, every 21 days, I'll be sitting in the chair for four hours,
getting pumped full of chemicals, hoping to kill the cancer that's slowly killing me.
I literally had to become supernatural.
It was around my fourth cycle when I was sitting in Dr. Trikha's office and he's going
over the charts.
And he's in astonishment.
We're like, "What's going on?"
He said, "We can't even see the lesions at the base of your spine."
And every single growth or tumor in your body has already shrunk dramatically."
But instead of celebrating prematurely, he tells me that I have to register myself on
a stem cell donor list because that would be my only path to a true cure in getting rid of this
Nicole and I look at each other.
And at this point, it's a no-brainer.
Put my name on the registry list.
And by the time that I hit that sick cycle,
not only was I in remission, I was 100% cancer free.
And on top of that, I had also secured a 100% donor match for my stem cell transplant.
I couldn't believe it.
Dr. Trikha looks at me and says, "You're a miracle."
And I think at the time I was wearing an Incredible Hulk shirt where Banner's turning into the Hulk.
And I was like, "Yeah, this is what I do. I'm a superhero."
But I wasn't out of the woods yet.
Dr. Trikha places a referral to one of his colleagues, another oncologist in Jacksonville
at Mayo Clinic. His name was Dr. Ayala.
Dr. Ayala signed me up to have the stem cell procedure done.
Now, by this time, we're looking at March 2020, literally the week before COVID lockdown hit.
So I'm in the hospital, and Dr. Ayala tells me, "Hey, you're going to have to go through
four days straight of some of the most intensive chemotherapy that you're going to ever witness."
Because we got to kill every white blood cell in your body to get ready.
For the stem cell transplant.
Now, when I tell you those four days were harder than my last six months, it's no exaggeration.
I didn't think I was going to make it.
But following Joe Dispenza, making my mind see that visual picture
of all the chemicals that I'm injecting, getting rid of that cancer,
getting that new lease on my life, I was able to survive the stem cell transplant.
And by the time I got the results, after a few days of trials, tribulations, little hiccups
here and there, Dr. Ayala tells me, "Your relapse chance went from double digits to single digits,
and you're almost at zero percent."
If it wasn't for that courageous donor who showed strength and volunteered some of their stem cells
to save my life, this fish would have never found his ocean again.
But here I am, living, loving, and surviving.
He is a true miracle.
What a journey.
Our next storyteller is just a fabulous woman who is very well known in the Jacksonville literary
scene. She's a UNF professor in writing and I took my notes because I wanted to make sure that
her first memoir, A Place of Peace in Crickets, How Adoption, Heartache, and Love Built a Family,
is a story about love, kids, dogs, and cats. Tricia Booker is just a very special lady.
Please welcome Tricia.
Hi everybody. I'm here with Buddy, my service dog.
Buddy, can you lay down please?
Buddy has been the only dependable male in my life for the past two years.
It's been that way since my husband left me. He left the weekend that the pandemic began.
And I remember being in our closet area and he's packing his things and we're kind of talking,
but we're kind of not talking to because I'm kind of in shock.
And I'm watching him and I'm thinking, if he packs my CrossFit hoodie, I'm going to
kill him because it's bad enough that he's leaving, but then if he takes my CrossFit hoodie,
that would just be the ultimate sin. But he didn't and he left and I put my hoodie on and I sat at
the end of my bed and I thought, wow, this is my life now. He moved to a studio apartment in Riverside,
the vibrant, culturally enriching, diverse neighborhood of Riverside. He left me in Ponte Vedra
with three teenagers, three dogs and a fish named Celine Dion.
And if you know Ponte Vedra, you know that it's a very wealthy community. It's a very beautiful place.
They have amazing schools, which is why we moved there. Beautiful beaches, gorgeous landscaping.
Our grass is literally greener than yours. But it's also like not really me. I mean,
it's a very conservative and a very predictable neighborhood. It's a very safe place to live.
There's an era of uniformity about it. If you live in a neighborhood in Ponte Vedra,
you probably have a homeowners association that tells you what color you have to paint your house
and what your lawn should look like. And if you make any changes at all to your house, you have to
ask permission. And I'm not really like that. I'm kind of messy. I'm a little bit of free
spirited and spontaneous and I like to do things different with my yard. I like to put signs in
my yard that are not allowed. And the homeowners association sends me letters and I take the signs
down and then they forget about it. I put the signs back up and we go back and forth. I actually
got a letter from a woman one time calling me a PITA. I was like a PITA. What is that? I had to
Google it. It stands for Paint In The Ass. So I am a Ponte Vedra PITA. So I'm living in Ponte Vedra
as a PITA. And I'm trying to do two really hard things. The first is that I'm trying to raise my
children to be unabashedly themselves. I want them to be brave and unique and I want them to
feel free to express themselves the way they are and not the way they think they should be.
Right? They are children of color. My children were adopted. My oldest one I
adopted from Vietnam and the youngest two I adopted from Guatemala. And so as children of color,
they're automatically kind of other because Ponte Vedra is 97% white. My children though have been
amazing. I think I've been fairly successful in telling them, "I want you to be you." No matter
who you are, I am proud of you. I want you to be utterly yourself. My daughter is in college. My
son and other daughter are both at Ponte Vedra high school. So my son is 17. He is gay. He's a
musical theater buff. He loves New York City and origami. And he is decorating his room right now
in a Boho aesthetic. He said, "Do you know what a Boho means, mom?" I'm like, "Oh yeah, we've invented
Boho." But I love who he is and I love that he's not afraid to be himself. My younger daughter is 15.
She plays three instruments. She has described her style as a fairy goth. I would describe it as like
Lolita fairy goth. I asked her one time, "How come you don't get dress coded, honey?" And she said,
"I don't know." And I said, "I think maybe the teachers are afraid of you?" And she said,
"They should be." And I was like, "Oh, okay." She's very into the supernatural and she likes to
read your tarot cards and crystals and I have found bowls of salt under my threshold and I don't know
what that means but it's okay with me. It doesn't bother me at all. The second really hard thing I'm
doing is trying to figure out who I am because when you're married for 26 years, together for 30
years and you lose that part of you, it's kind of like an amputation. I mean, I found myself very
unbalanced. I was unable to see who I am because when you have somebody to bounce yourself off of,
you feel like you feel secure in that. Like, okay, somebody gets who I am and appreciates that.
And that person was gone. So I've got to figure out who I am again in this place that again values
conformity. And it's a wealthy neighborhood and you know wealth can buy you an extended period of
beauty, right? And it's a certain standard of beauty, maybe a traditional standard of beauty.
There's a lot of beauty in Ponte Vedra. There's a lot of Botox and a lot of filler and a lot of
really cute clothes. And I'm kind of not like that. And I don't really begrudge people who
are like that. It's just that it's not me. I mean, sometimes I might begrudge them a little bit just
because you know, like eyelid surgery wouldn't be terrible. But I don't really want to do that.
I am just a little different. I don't wear a lot of makeup. I don't wear cute clothes. I thrift most
of my clothes. Actually, I have tattoos. I only shower outside because I have this amazing outdoor...
I'm a little bit feral if you want to know the truth.
And I don't feel like I have a tribe around me in Ponte Vedra who can look at me and say,
you know, you're different, but you're okay. I told my kids therapist, because I borrow my kids
therapist sometimes, I said, I feel hideous is what I feel like. I feel really just hideous.
And it reminded me of when I was 12 years old and I switched schools from this small,
suburban parochial school to an upper crust, all girls private Catholic school in uptown New Orleans.
And I didn't know it was a snobby school, but it was. And we had uniforms we wore, but one day a month,
we could wear regular clothes. So the first day I showed up wearing regular clothes, I was so
excited. I wore my favorite outfit, which was this yellow pants suit. It was a yellow cotton pants
suit with a big zebra applique right here and right here. See, now you know already that this
is a terrible thing to wear to a school. I can tell because you're laughing, but I thought it was
the most fabulous thing. I mean, I loved wildlife and I mean, anyway. So the first person to say
something to me was Elizabeth Cubel. She said, I like your outfit. And I said, thank you very much,
because I thought, but then I saw her sneering and I knew that she was making fun of me.
It had been my favorite pantsuit, but I never wore it again. And we had to go shopping that
weekend because I needed to buy all straight legged pants and alligator shirts, Lacoste
alligator shirts, and topsiders because I wanted to be like everybody else because I wasn't brave
enough to be myself. My friends say, you will find someone who appreciates who you are. And I've
hopped on the dating apps for a quick minute here or there. It did not go well. The first time I
used as my profile picture, I was holding a chainsaw and I had this t-shirt that said,
the t-shirt said smash the patriarchy. But I thought, you know, I just, thank you.
I wanted people to know who I was. You know, the therapist says, well, you know, maybe it's,
if you were trying to sell a house, you just, you improve the curb appeal. So maybe you could just
improve your curb appeal. But I just feel like that's so much trouble. I want people to see me for
who I am. So I was utterly uninterested in the guy who, who tried to like me, who said he could
lick his own eyebrow. And I didn't think that was a very marketable skill at all.
There was another guy though who said, what's your unforgivable thing in a relationship? What's
unforgivable? And I thought that's a really good question. I mean, not for him to ask, but for me
to ask myself. And I thought, what is unforgivable for me? And I thought, well, narcissism, uncontrollable
anger, racism, homophobia, inability to love my kids, inability to love my dog.
I wrote all this to him. And then I, I should have written public toenail clipping, but I didn't
write that. But I wrote all this and he deleted me immediately, which was okay, because I deleted
the app. And I thought, you know what, I am just now trying to figure out who I am. Why do I have
to explain myself to somebody else when I can barely explain myself to myself?
Thank you guys.
I had as a little girl a pony. We had this cabin in the woods. And I used to love to ride this
pony bare back through the woods. My dad had these trails that he had carved through the woods with
his tractor. And I'd get up early in the morning and I'd hop bear back on my pony. And I would ride
🎵 Happy trails to you... 🎵
because I envisioned myself being on the Roy Rogers show. And I was so
utterly happy with my place in the world. I mean, I knew who I was. I knew where I was. I was like,
I, I don't care where I'm going. I can just be going to that next tree, but it's where I'm supposed
to be. And I'm who I'm supposed to be. And it didn't matter what polyester abomination I was wearing,
I looked great. I want to be like that now. I want to be able to live in Ponte Vedra and say,
this is who I am. This is okay.
I used to deep-sea fish a lot with my dad. My dad was ever on a quest for the great Blue Marlin.
And he caught several Blue Marlins. When you catch a Blue Marlin, a big Blue Marlin, like
multi-hundred pounds, you get them on the boat. And as soon as they come through the
transom, the first thing my dad would do, we used to call him Captain Safety. He was so afraid of
someone getting hurt. But when a fish gets out of the water and it's on the boat, it starts
thrashing, right? Because it's out of the water. And my dad was always terrified the fish would
throw the hook. And so he had what we called a tuna stick. And he would take the fish by the
bill and he would beat the head to stun it because he didn't want it to throw the hook.
And something would happen to this fish. It would start glowing. It was like this beautiful
effervescent glow. It was just an amazing creature. It was phenomenal to see.
So here's this beautiful creature and you beat it and it glows and glows and glows
and then it dies. But you don't have to do it that way. I caught a Blue Marlin once. It was only
two hundred pounds. We got it up to the boat and we held it by the bill and we took a picture
and we took the hook out because we were going to release it. And we released that fish back into
the water. And it did not dive back into the ocean and swim with all the other fish.
It started jumping and twirling. It tail walked. It was like, "Psh, psh, psh, psh." It was amazing.
And I think I can be like that fish. I can be in the water and I can be who I am among all these
other creatures that perhaps are not like me. But every once in a while, I can jump up out of the
water and say, "Here I am." Thank you very much. [applause]
Come on, buddy. I love, buddy. That tail never stops wagging. The whole time, it's just like,
"Okay, that's buddy. I know all these stories and I'm just totally like, what is it?
Verklempt! Verklempt, I'm not around enough Jewish friends. I have to change that.
How many of you have gone to the Jacksonville Symphony?
Well, it's a good chance that you have seen our next storyteller because Philip Pan was the
concert master at the Jacksonville Symphony for many, many years. And he is...
Philip is just one of the most kindest, generous, brilliant people I know.
And I've known him now for a little while and he's just a very, very special man.
And I am really thrilled to work with him. And so I welcome Philip to the stage.
It's 1969. I'm standing on a cafeteria table at the Boght Hills Elementary School in Latham, New York,
Christmas PTA meeting. A voice over the PA says, "And now, Philip Pan from Mrs. Cosgrove's third grade
class will perform "Fiddler on the Roof."
🎵 [Plays the intro to "Prologue" from "Fiddler on the Roof" screaching and out of tune on the violin]
I knew that sucked.
🎵 [Dramatically plays the first four notes of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 on the violin]
Worse, I knew everybody in the room thought it sucked too.
🎵 [Dramatically plays the next four notes of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 on the violin]
I need to take a moment to apologize to Beethoven for hijacking the wonderful music from his fifth
symphony to represent my personal neurosis. I didn't really like the violin or violin music at that
point in my life. What had happened was that about two months prior, a gentleman with a little bow tie,
his arms full of kid-sized violins showed up at a classroom and he said, "If anyone will sign up
for violin lessons with me, I'll give them a violin right now." I was like, "Okay, me, me!"
Because I thought, "Dad would be so happy. My father loved the violin. He played very well as an amateur.
He and my mother met over a love of music, and they often played together violin and piano at home."
So I just thought, "How happy will Dad be when I bring home my own violin?"
Well, despite the trauma of my debut performance, I stuck with it. I worked hard.
By middle school, I was practicing maybe six or seven hours a day. One summer, I actually moved
in with my teacher so I could have lessons every single day for a couple of months.
There was a joke when I went around my house that I was no good at attracting girls my age,
but when I played the violin, every woman over 50 swooned.
Well, by 11th grade, still working hard, a great opportunity came my way. I was invited to play
a concerto with the Boston Pops Orchestra. Thank you. At Symphony Hall in Boston,
and to be recorded by NPR and rebroadcast over all the syndicated stations.
So needless to say, I practiced really hard, was well prepared for this performance.
The Boston Pops, of course, marvelous orchestra also made me feel very welcome and at ease.
And the performance itself was going pretty well. This concerto was in three parts, and
the finale is introduced first by the orchestra.
🎵 [Plays concerto orchestra finale introduction on the violin]
That happens exactly 13 times then the violin solo comes in.
🎵 [Plays concerto violin finale confidently]
Well, I'm standing there not counting, and at about the 15th or 16th,
the conductor leans over to me and says, "You can come in anytime now."
Oh, I had just...
🎵 [Dramatically plays the first four notes of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 on the violin]
In front of the entire Boston Pops Orchestra, 3,000 people in Boston Symphony Hall,
and who knows how many people who would listen to the broadcast on the radio.
🎵 [Dramatically plays the next four notes of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 on the violin with the last note pitch bending down sadly]
my demons of fear, of messing up, and the fear of being judged for it were wide awake.
And they would be with me for decades through the rest of high school,
through my first year at Boston University, four years at the Juilliard School, festivals like
the Aspen Music Festival. And they were with me in 1984 when I came to Jacksonville to become
concertmaster of the Jacksonville Symphony. I'm often asked, "What's it like to play in a
professional symphony orchestra?" And my answer is, I imagine it's like being in the military,
because individualism, individual thought creativity, are not welcome. What's expected is
competent, immediate execution of orders given, and mistakes are not okay.
So it's with this mindset, I went to work every day. In the 90s, a guest soloist came
to our Masterwork series. He brought a violin with him, but he was not per se a violinist.
He was a fiddler, Mark O'Connor, arguably the greatest fiddler of our time. And he brought his own
composition, Fiddle Concerto No. 1.
🎵 [Plays the introduction to The Fiddle Concerto by Mark O'Conner on the violin]
A just wonderful, delightful amalgamation of Appalachian
Americana and a symphonic setting. And we were chatting after the concerts, I told them how much
I'd really enjoyed his performance. He said, "You should come to my fiddle camp. It's a week long,
immersion in world violin music. There's classical, bluegrass, jazz, zydeco, mariachi,
klezmer, Chinese folk music, everything violin. You might like it." Well, it took me 'til 2005 to
finally go to Fiddle camp. And I think the orchestra, the stress of it, was sort of
wearing on me. I was looking for some kind of relief, some kind of a change. So I arrived at the
hotel and in the lobby where everyone was registering, fiddlers and violinists from all over the world
were already taking their violins out of their cases, making new friends, and making music right
there in the lobby. Over in one corner, a bluegrass circle. In another corner, Irish fiddlers playing
jigs and reels. And then from across the room, I heard something familiar.
🎵 [Plays the melody of Summertime by George Gershwin on the violin]
Ooh I know that! That's George Gershwin. We played George Gershwin. Wow, maybe I can even join in
with these guys. So I went over and this young lady about 15 was just finishing the melody.
And then she sort of leaned into the guitarist and said, "Let's swing this."
🎵 [Continues the melody of Summertime by George Gershwin on the violin, but with a swing beat and added flourishes and improved harmonies]
What?! I was stunned. She had just turned this into the swingy, cool, groovy. And she looked like
she was making it all up. Like, no music, just making it up. And I was elated, excited, and then
immediately dejected. Because I couldn't do this. 20 years, professional violinist. No clue.
Whole week went that way. Every class. Amazing new music. Couldn't play a note. Of course,
I asked everybody, "How'd you learn to do that? How'd you learn to play like that?"
Lessons, special teachers, special school. You grew up with it. Everybody just told me, "No,
you just find people who play that music. You join in. You learn as you go." Absolutely
terrifying thought to a classically trained violinist. But I went back to Jacksonville
determined to somehow dip my toe into these new wonderful styles of music.
Put the word out. So happened. My family doctor's little brother was the drummer in a very popular
and successful local band called Fusebox Funk. Fusebox Funk was fronted by Grant Nielsen.
Grant Nielsen, our friend, the vegetarian. Grant and the band were very kind, invited me to learn
a few of their songs and even join them on stage at some local shows. Their music was so fun,
super high energy.
🎵 [Plays a sample of Fusebox Funk on the violin]
And it became an addiction of mine after Symphony Concert on a Friday
or Saturday night to run backstage, pack up, jump in my car, and drive out to a venue like
Freebird Live. Remember Freebirds? Rest in peace, Freebirds? And I would, you know,
still in my tux or my tail coat, jump on stage, plug in, and jam out with my new friends.
And I love this so much because this was a judgment-free zone. No one cared if you made a
mistake. Nobody knew if you made a mistake because all that was important was that you were in the
moment, you were part of the energy, you contributed to it, and everybody had a great time.
Well, after Fusebox, I joined a progressive metal band called the Architect Sound. And then I had
a series of gigs in Atlanta playing with DJ Mike B, who was leading DJ of the day, and he would
spin these mash-ups of Katy Perry and Lil Wayne, and I would just jam along. And in Jacksonville,
I was really, really fortunate to play with some great indie bands. In particular, Canary in the
Cole Mine and Grandpa's Cough Medicine presented me the opportunity with playing at the Spirit of
the Suwannee Music Park. And yes, if you don't already know, the Suwannee Music Park is one of the worlds
great live music venues. It's beautiful, and attracts the best players in the world.
And the Spirit is just like how I described in the clubs in Jacksonville. Everybody's
their famous, not so famous, to share what they have, to appreciate what you have. And it's just
a joyful, happy place. No coincidence that I met the love of my life at Suwannee.
Cheryl, we got married there. I proposed to her there on stage, singing an Elvis song.
And at our wedding, our friends played and sang for us all night long.
When I first conceived of my fish out of water story, I thought, yeah, perfect. This would be the
story of my uncomfortable transition from being a rigid, highly prepared, classical player,
to learning how to loosen up, being a moment, improvise. As the story developed, I realized that
most of my life I felt out of my water. And where I wanted to be in the pond I wanted to swim in
was not defined by any particular style of music. It was defined that the people I was with.
And I found people who are just joyful, open-hearted, and willing to let go of unnecessary
fears and worries. In 2017, I retired from the symphony. And at that time, I made the conscious
decision that I want to swim in these happy, joyful waters, no matter what kind of music I play.
I'm really, really happy to be here. I'm really happy that you are all here too. Thank you.
Grant Nielsen with his guitar. Do you want to make some music?
Let's do it. Let's make some music.
Okay. What should we play? Hmm. Okay.
Now just check. All right. I know. Let's play this.
🎵 [Phillip and Grant plays an improved Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 with flamenco, latin and jazz influences on violin and guitar ]
Yeah! So listen! We're at the end of the evening and we're going to call the cast after bows and actually also there are storytellers in the audience that
this has been a four-part series each time we had six storytellers so a bunch of the storytellers are here so if you're a storyteller from untold stories make your way over to the stage door okay because we're all going to have you all come out and take a final bow for the end of the season okay.
Alright so without further ado please the cast of Fish out of Water okay come on out.
And to that Johnson, Ana, Angie, Grant, Tricia, Arsun, [Applause]
Phillip and Michael.
What a wonderful evening and I'll take a bow too.
And Jeremy on sound and the Florida Theatre has the most amazing staff Jackie at the door I love her, and now all the storytellers come on out that have been throughout the season.
We've got families coming out.
Come on come down at this end too.
And now everyone's going this way.
We're all gravitated too.
So it has been amazing.
Thank you Numa, Cecilyne, I don't know where Numa is, Numa should be up here.
And Jake and Brian Wolfberg, thank you, thank you for believing in the power of stories.
Thank you guys.
The live performances of Untold Stories at the Florida Theatre were originally recorded by Jeremy Moore and Eric Stanzfield.
Saul Lucio is the technical director of the Florida Theatre.
The Untold Stories broadcast and podcast was produced by Brady Corum and Ray Hollister.