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Conversations with Barbara Friedman

Today we’d like to introduce you to Barbara Friedman.

Hi Barbara, it’s an honor to have you on the platform. Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us – to start maybe you can share some of your backstories with our readers.
Moving to Dade City in 1975 was a bit of a cultural shock. I’m a musician and came from big cities, and I soon realized there were few arts and cultural opportunities for this community north of Tampa. A wonderful local dance studio owner, Sally Blackwood, started up a volunteer non-profit arts organization – Heritage Arts Center Association, and I was enthusiastic about joining the Board. An early activity was organizing excursions to concerts and museums.

HACA also started a talent competition – Spotlight on Talent. As my children were also musicians, I loved that they had this opportunity to fine-tune their gifts. Pretty soon I became the Producer of Spotlight on Talent. It started small on the stage during the county fair, with music provided by a cassette tape, and now has exploded after 39 years to a $17,000 production with paid panels of professional judges held at a huge school theater auditorium with all the latest theater equipment.

This has become a regional competition with applicants coming from 5 surrounding counties to the Pasco County location. Each year over a hundred talented students K – 12 audition to be a finalist in 2 shows, attended by hundreds of community lovers of the arts.

Then in 1997, I asked the Board to help me put on an adult musical concert and art show to raise funds for a grand piano for local events. They were reluctant, but it was a success and in 2 years we bought a 6’2″ concert grand Yamaha. Now we continue 2 “Moonlight and Ivory” concerts every year as a gift to the community, and to fund two annual a$1,000 scholarships for talented young people – one in performing arts and one in visual arts, to graduating seniors.

In addition to my work with HACA, I teach piano students privately and am the pianist at the Dade City Methodist Church. I enjoy all the arts opportunities that the Tampa Bay area provides, but it has been very meaningful to be a part of celebrating the arts in the northern rural suburbs.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
One challenge for this community is that there is not a community arts/theater building. We had a small, fun, community players group which eventually folded, mostly because of the challenge of finding an appropriate venue for productions.

For 5 years, we were part of an effort to take a dilapidated 1920s vaudeville theater in Dade City and renovate it for such a purpose. Trying to find substantial donors for that big project in this agricultural area, plus losing the possibility of a state grant, finally doomed the effort.

We have to pay over $5,000 every year to rent the school theater for 2 days for Spotlight on Talent. The Moonlight and Ivory concerts are held in the lovely Dade City Women’s Club, but although charming, it is very cramped. We would never be able to expand the seating, and events during even marginal COVID presence have been canceled for several years.

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
I’m very proud to be a part of the Heritage Arts Center Association arts organization. In addition to producing the Spotlight on a Talent competition, the Moonlight and Ivory concerts, and giving the two $1,000 scholarships, it is a unique boost to helping our rural area have some delightful arts opportunities.

Because of our annual donors, we are a major sponsor of the area Arts in Motion children’s theater, the amazing community Dade City Symphony and its 3 annual concerts, and local productions at St. Leo University, among others. Personally, although I willingly do give unimaginable hours of volunteer hours in these efforts, that is a most meaningful part of my identity.

My piano teaching is very rewarding and many former students are now enriching their communities with their gifts and careers. I’ve accompanied several area church music ministries, performed for many years with an area “Artists for Humanity” performing group raising funds for local worthy projects, helped the Salvation Army with several musical events, and accompanied the Tampa Opera Chorus and the St. Leo Community chorus.

I’m probably known as the “piano lady” around the area. I have a rich musical family history and was blessed with great training and support growing up, so I’m thankful to God for that and so happy to “pass it on”.

What were you like growing up?
My family was definitely centered all around music and the church. My grandfather was a composer of 400 choruses and hymns, my parents were church musicians all their lives, and I lived, breathed, and loved those influences! As a teen, I accompanied the school choir, played in the high school band, started teaching piano students, and began an almost 60-year career as a church pianist.

I went to the school of my dreams because of receiving scholarships from the Miss Alabama Pageant. I always knew that I would major in music in college, and spent 3 years as a public school music teacher before coming to Florida and switching to teaching private piano lessons.

Because of my faith, I believe that my musical talent is a gift from God, and it is a joyful passion to share it with those around me. My dear husband is charged with the task of telling me when the time has come for Rheumatoid Arthritis to determine when my hands will retire, but until then, they’ll go on playing!

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