David Friedman: Creating a life through words and music

David Friedman. Photo by John Paul Boukis
David Friedman. Photo by John Paul Boukis

After years of successful contributions to the entertainment industry “behind the scenes” as accompanist, vocal coach, vocal arranger, conductor, composer, collaborator, songwriter, record producer, life coach and occasional instructor at the Performing Arts Center in New Canaan, David Friedman is stepping into the spotlight with the recent release of two CDs and a book. Both the music — A Different Light: David Friedman Sings His Own Songs and Let Me Fly: David Friedman Sings More of His Own Songs — and the book, The Thought Exchange: Overcoming Our Resistance To Living A Sensational Life, reflect a positive outlook on life.

While you may never have heard of Mr. Friedman — Barry Manilow calls him “the greatest unknown composer in America” — he has had a dedicated following in the theater and cabaret arenas for years. And you have probably heard his conductor/vocal arranger work on at least one of a dozen Disney animated movies, including Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, or seen him conducting a Broadway show for which he also did the vocal arrangements; he was musical supervisor on the live Beauty and the Beast.

Additionally, his songs have been recorded by any number of vocalists, including Mr. Manilow, Diana Ross and Alison Krauss, and he has appeared on the “Everyone Has A Story” segment of Kathie Lee & Hoda on the Today Show on the first Thursday of the month for the last five years.

Mr. Friedman met Kathie Lee Gifford in 1984, and “Kathie Lee subsequently became a big champion of my music, and later the great cabaret singer Nancy LaMott. We’ve written a number of songs together and become great friends.”

He also produced Ms. LaMott’s CDs, something he impulsively offered to do when he was struck, after hearing her sing in 1989, and told her she should be making records. When she said, “Yeah, and who’s going to pay for that?” he heard himself say, “I will.” He created the label MIDDER Music (named for his dog) to do so. “Nancy was my muse.” he said. “I wrote some of my best songs for her.”

After she died of uterine cancer in December 1995, Mr. Friedman was devastated and didn’t know if he would be able to write again. Several months later though, “‘Trust the Wind’ just came to me whole, as if through Nancy… I did not expect to write a song with such a positive, healing message. But this song serves to reinforce my belief that songs don’t come from us, they come to us.”

The 30 songs on the new CDs are presented simply, as Mr. Friedman “heard them in my head,” accompanying himself on the piano, only occasionally with a trio of backup singers or a few strings. They are also arranged alphabetically — from “A Different Light” to “Your Love.” On the whole, they can be described as inspirational and are pretty straightforward. If he were to be remembered for only one song, he would like it to be “We Can Be Kind.”

The one that most people admit identifying with, however, Mr. Friedman says with a laugh, is “My Simple Wish,” which opens sweetly, then shifts into belt mode with the line, “I wanna be rich, famous and powerful; step on all my enemies and never do a thing…”

The Thought ExchangeThe Thought Exchange

Mr. Friedman’s quest has been a lifelong one and he is quick to note, “Any wisdom that comes through my songs or my classes is there because I needed to learn it, not because I have it. Some of my most rewarding experiences have come out of great personal pain or what was initially perceived as devastating failure.”Developing the concept of The Thought Exchange evolved over three years during a class Mr. Friedman taught at the Unity Center in Manhattan, originally called The Artists’ Support Circle. The Thought Exchange moves beyond the laws of attraction and manifestation that have been growing in popularity over the past several decades. He observed, “While people would say affirmations, create dream boards, think positive thoughts and try to heal their inner child, they would often get discouraged and frustrated when things weren’t turning out the way they were visualized; something was missing. I made it my mission to figure out what could be done differently to achieve a different outcome.”

He began playing

the piano at age 11 and subsequently decided to become a concert pianist. He thought he was “checking off the list of things to do to be successful,” but at age 20, he was hospitalized for panic disorder. To later prove to himself he could be in a crowd, he walked through Macy’s at Christmastime.

“I was shaking like crazy and thought for sure I was going to die, but I didn’t,” he recalled. It was his first inkling that the thoughts one attaches to physical sensations are what is important, although he didn’t realize it then as he pursued “traditional therapy, gestalt therapy, primal scream, EST, you name it, I tried it.”

While often fighting an inner emptiness, which caused him to change careers several times just as he was achieving success, he was also noticing “the more aware I became of who I am, the more I was myself, and the less I worried about the results of my efforts, the more fulfilled I became.” He also came to understand that “anything we want from the outside world — love, acceptance, forgiveness — we have to give to ourselves first.” The question was, how?

The Thought Exchange focuses on acknowledging the physical sensations that come with a given thought or desire — butterflies, heart pounding, throat tightening — then being aware of the protective thought taken on — I can’t, it’s impossible, I never succeed — that causes the uncomfortable sensations to cease.

Mr. Friedman says, “If we want to hold the thought of success, we have to be able to experience the uncomfortable sensations of that thought; so many people want to be comfortable, and you can’t go ‘there’ if you’re comfortable. To exchange your thought about the sensation enables the desire to do something to become greater than your desire not to have the sensation. I’m never comfortable on stage, for example. Before I perform my stomach flutters, I sweat and shake a lot, but now I understand that, so I can perform.”

Mr. Friedman sees himself as “a transmitter, working with people to open themselves up to the wider possibilities, to connect to the unlimited. Now I do all six of my careers as desired, and give talks and performances all over the country… I find life joyful these days.”

Among the places Mr. Friedman teaches The Thought Exchange is the Unity Center in Norwalk (unitycenterps.org), where his partner Shawn Moninger is the minister.

For additional information about everything David Friedman, visit www.middermusic.com.