Violinist hits inspiring notes, challenges Chamber leaders

From the Tallahassee Democrat

AMELIA ISLAND – Beams of white lights flashed overhead, creating drama and suspense. Kai Kight stands in the shadows as he begins playing his trusted violin.

He suddenly appears, playing and plucking the instrument that freed the genius within and led him to perform at prestigious venues like the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the White House. Tallahassee’s most powerful players and business professionals are entranced. Their eyes follow Kight as he slowly walks and plays the perimeter of the room like his grand stage.

Kight looks like a hipster. He’s dressed in jet black skinny pants a tailored button down shirt. The engineer-turned violinist has a unique, soft-spoken motivational style that doesn’t mirror energizing speeches by Tony Robbins. He’s humble and driven by his life’s bumps in the road, including his mother’s cancer scare and missteps at competitions.

“Are you writing new music or playing notes that have already been handed to you,” Kight posed to the audience, in a soft spoken yet effective tone.

Kight was a featured speaker Saturday on day two of the Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce Conference at Amelia Island. His message was a mix of life stories and original classical songs and his remixed version of Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal.”

He recalled one moment with a stranger.

Kight thought he had bombed a performance at the Kennedy Center. His nerves got the best of him, even though he practiced day and night. He stood on stage but couldn’t see the audience. Or the majesty of the venue. Sixty notes on white pages were all he could see. He messed up on the first note and confidence crumbled like paper. But he played on.

He rushed off and hid his boyish face from anyone who might recognize him. A woman, a stranger, touched his arm and began singing a melody. She never said a word.

“She kept singing it. And singing it,” he said.

The stranger said his music reminded her of a melody she and her brother sang as children. Without knowing, his mistake was like a time machine where the woman was reminded of her innocence and childhood. Simpler times.

His mistake was a gift. She thanked him and disappeared.

“We can get so lost in the notes and forget the reason why we are creating music,” he said.

His message challenged leaders and professionals in the room to rethink the city’s future and the path to composing Tallahassee’s unique song.

“There are a lot of challenges, obviously, we as a community are facing but also a lot of opportunity moments,” said Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. “It’s very, very easy to mark up the things that can be a detraction for us as a community.”

He was moved and inspired by Kight’s red pen analogy.

The violinist talked about an audition where three American Idol-like judges appeared as if they were ready to crush his dreams by marking his every mistake on music sheets with the dreaded red pen. Instead, he was on the top of the list of those who had made the cut.

“What I enjoy about this conference and what the red pen analogy reminded me of was to suspend all of the doubt and all of the negativity that’s formed. We should start to focus as a community on what we have as an asset that we can build upon and tell our own story,” Gillum said.

Later in the day, Jacksonville Jaguars President Mark Lamping, another featured speaker, revealed how the team went from being one of the lowest ranked teams to being the rising Phoenix among the NFL teams.

He never thought he’d be living in Jacksonville. But Lamping said it’s been a dream come true, having come from the Midwest and landing a Florida job.

Lamping said the team, which is among one of the NFL’s smallest markets, had to create ways to diversify its revenue and give fans a reason to willingly spend money. Compared to other NFL teams, much of Jacksonville’s population is transient. And people come to the city with allegiances already set for other teams.

His message centered around tackling challenges with effective ideas that can meet customer needs, which are constantly changing. He said Tallahassee can meet its needs if it continues to evolve.

“If you realize you have challenges, you’re a long way toward addressing those challenges,” Lamping said. “The needs of a community evolve over time, whether you’re in government or private enterprise. To do well, you have to evolve in how you do things.”

Contact TaMaryn Waters at or follow @TaMarynWaters on Twitter.