Matthew Friedman, B.A., '90; J.D., '94
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What is your edge (strength)?
Being blessed with natural musical talent, combined with a good supply of tenacity and patience.
What at Hofstra gave you your edge?
Hofstra University understands that students typically do not arrive at their school “fully formed.” Rather, they believe that college should be a place where students are free to experiment, to fail and try again, and to acquire experience and knowledge at their own pace. Having this kind of freedom without undue pressure allowed me to pursue my career in music far more aggressively, and prevented me from getting frustrated when the perfect opportunity did not immediately present itself.
In one word, how would you describe Hofstra?
What was your major?
Liberal Arts, with concentrations in English, history and classics; I was a music minor.
What was your favorite class?
Any courses taught by Professor David Lalama in the Music Department (Songwriting and Jazz Improvisation come to mind). Outside of music, my English courses with Professor William McBrien (20th-Century English Literature and Poetry) were superb.
What is your fondest memory of Hofstra?
Performing with the various musical groups – Jazz Band, Vocal Jazz Ensemble (of which I was student director for two semesters), the Hofstra University Fusion Jazz Band (which I founded), and the Electronic Music Department’s 25th Anniversary Concert with Professor Herbert Deutsch.
What is your field of specialty, and how did you come to work in the industry?
I am a professional musician and performer, and from January of 2006 to the present, I have been “The Piano Man” in the National Touring Company of Billy Joel and Twyla Tharp’s MOVIN’ OUT. When I first heard that Billy Joel was creating a Broadway musical, back in 2002, it became my mission to leave my law career and move into music and performance permanently. It took me three years of practice and some interesting twists of fate, but in the end, I made it happen.
Whom in your field do you most admire?
Billy Joel, of course. He is the consummate singer/songwriter, and a great guy … far more down to earth than you could possibly expect of someone with such legendary stature, and a huge supporter of musical education. And I would say that even if I wasn’t performing his songs in front of thousands of people every night.
What was your first job after graduating from Hofstra, and what was the most valuable thing you learned?
Immediately after graduating from Hofstra Law School, I got a job as in-house counsel to an insurance company in Manhattan. I worked there for almost 11 years, until I got my break in show business. The most valuable thing I learned there, funny enough, was that I did NOT want to be an attorney. I had no passion for the work, and no matter how busy I was, music was always calling me.
What advice would you give current Hofstra students?
Take your time to figure out what it is that you want to be doing for the rest of your life. Don’t make snap judgments, don’t settle, and don’t take the easy or safe roads. You can’t find true happiness that way.
How do you balance work and life?
It isn’t always easy. My work takes me away from home for long periods of time. My wife and I are fortunate in that we actually like to spend our time together. The upcoming round of the tour adds the new challenge of my having to be away from my newborn son. But my wife has been nothing but supportive, and the producers have found very creative ways to keep me coming back for more. Plus, the enthusiasm of the audiences, my friendships with the other musicians and dancers, and the opportunities that have opened up for me because of my participation in MOVIN’ OUT go a long way toward canceling out the negatives that come with the road life.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Hopefully writing songs for successful artists, with a steady flow of “mailbox money” that will allow me to stay home with my family.
What is the single most rewarding experience in your career thus far?
It would have to be playing with Billy Joel at his wedding back in 2004. I was his keyboard player for two hours. I wanted to drive off a cliff after that party. And it led in great part to my getting “The Piano Man” job with MOVIN’ OUT.
What is something that you have learned as a performer that you would never have learned as a lawyer?
There are several things I’ve learned as a performer that my career as an attorney didn’t teach me. It took leaving the law for me to learn how to become comfortable with public speaking. I’ve learned quite a bit about how the “media machine” works. I’ve become a fairly expert traveler. I’ve figured out how to collaborate in creative endeavors, to be more of a team player. And, most importantly, I’ve learned how to actually enjoy my work.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to make a career change like you did, but is afraid to take the next step?
Never let fear get in the way of doing what you love, and understand that “no” is almost never definitive. I was pretty terrified to leave a safe, steady career in law for the unpredictability of music and entertainment. There was a lot of inertia I had to push past. But I constructed a long-term plan, did not give myself a deadline for success, and used every connection I could think of to make the jump. In the end, I have absolutely no regrets. The two hours I spend on stage every night are absolute bliss.
What was your favorite on-stage experience while performing?
I love challenging myself to do a “perfect show.” I’m a pretty tough critic when it comes to my own performances. I’ve now done exactly 300 shows as “The Piano Man,” and by my reckoning, only six of them have met my standard of perfection. But when that happens, it is an incredible feeling. As for my favorite performance – that would be back in 2006 in Tokyo, Japan. The audiences were “juiced up” about MOVIN’ OUT to begin with. One night, an all-time champion Sumo wrestler came to see the show, and the band was allowed to perform a few extra songs at the end of the night (which rarely happens). Thousands of people were dancing in the aisles. It was truly electric.