Dion is an extraordinary pianist whose talent has taken him to the world stage. He attended Macalester College (St. Paul, MN) where he received both Biology and Music degrees. In 2013, he graduated from the prestigious Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University with a Master of Music in Piano and was awarded the Frances W. Wentz Turner Memorial Prize for his outstanding musical achievement. Dion received a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Maryland in May 2019.
In 2015, Dion was recognized internationally when he was awarded 2nd prize in the American Protege International Piano and Strings competition as well as 3rd prize in the American Prize Solo Piano competition. He made his debut in Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall in November 2015.
Dion has maintained an active career as a soloist and collaborator which has taken him to North and South America, the Caribbean and Europe. His participation in festivals include Art of Piano (Cincinnati, OH), Crescendo Music Festival (Hungary), Interharmony Music and Virtuosi e Bel Canto Festivals (Italy). Dion also served as pianist for the world premiere of the opera “Qadar,” commissioned by the Smithsonian, at the Kennedy Center and Strathmore (Washington, DC). At the request of the Governor General, Dion performed a solo recital on The Bahamas’ 40th Anniversary of Independence. In 2016, he debuted his outreach recital series “Adventures In Western Art Music: Act 1,” which was presented to over 500 students in the Bahamas and United States. Other recent engagements include a recital with mezzo-soprano Bri Cooper on the occasion of The Bahamas’ 43rd Anniversary of Independence (Washington, DC) and a concert tour debuting new works for Trumpet and Piano featuring Dr. Josh Ganger.
Dion’s experience as an educator is also significant. He obtained his Diploma in Ed. from the College of the Bahamas and M.M. Ed from Vandercook College (Chicago, IL), and has been employed as a high school music teacher in The Bahamas for 5 years. Service activities remain close to Dion’s heart as he has personally benefited from such programs. He has worked alongside musicians of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in the OrchKids program and the East Lake Expression Engine (Chattanooga, TN), where they provided music instruction for inner city students. In partnership with the Bel Canto Singers (Nassau, Bahamas), Dion has brought colleagues from the Peabody Conservatory and the University of Maryland to The Bahamas to perform benefit concerts and workshops with Bahamian students for the past 5 years. He currently serves as a Music Teacher at Lyford Cay International School.
It is Dion’s hope to use his career as a performer and educator to inspire those from non-traditional backgrounds to pursue careers in music. He believes that music has immense power to bring about the positive change we need in our communities by promoting mutual understanding of the things that connect us as human beings.
1. What inspired you to pursue a career in your field?
Music was not my career of choice initially but I knew early on that it would be part of my life. Outside my childhood music teacher, Dawn Sands, I remember seeing ZNS replays of Francis Fawkes playing the piano and being amazed at what he could do.In college, my piano teacher, Don Betts, deepened my love of music.The decision to finally take the leap occurred in 2010 during the Bel Canto Singers Spring Concert where I accompanied renowned soprano, Carmen Balthrop.That was the moment that inspired a series of moments that continue to this day.
2. Why is your profession/field of study important?
I believe that the study and experience of music is the only thing that teaches us how to listen and feel with our whole selves.It is impossible to have a rich and fulfilled life without music in it.Our alarms, our movies, our video games, our religious experiences and the seminal moments of our lives are innervated by music.
3. Did you have a mentor or coach who helped or encouraged you to pursue your dreams?
There are a number of people who have encouraged me along the journey.My parents, Deanza and Edris Cunningham, are certainly at the top of the list.I must also mention Dawn Sands, Audrey Wright and Lee Callender who continue to consistently encourage my music making and career-related potential.
4. Did you encounter any obstacles along your path to this point?
There have been so many obstacles of all types, I could write a second dissertation on this question to go along with the one I’m currently writing!! If I had to choose though, I would say a huge one for me was and still is struggling with my own identity and confidence in the face of past academic failures, financial challenges, racial discrimination and microaggression. My faith in Jesus Christ, the renewing of my mind in line with His word and an inner circle of family and friends have been key to my continued overcoming.
5. What was the most amazing experience you have had so far?
LOL, this is not a fair question!Since 2010, I have been fortunate to perform all over North America and Europe, to win prizes in piano competitions, to make my Carnegie Hall debut and to conduct with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.This is in addition to teaching and lecturing throughout the US and bringing friends and colleagues to perform and do music outreach work in Bahamian schools.I would say though the most meaningful experience I’ve had was the opportunity of giving a recital for an audience of 500 kids in our community.Seeing the awe, excitement and inspiration in the eyes of the next generation was a most moving and exceptionally motivating experience.
6. What is your favorite written work (book/quote/poem etc) and why?
“You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.” Matt. 5:13-14 It reminds me that my abilities and my accomplishments should serve the world in some way.
7. What do you think is the most important issue facing the world today?
Without question, it’s the lack of empathy - for self, for family, for community or for the world.It has never been easier to communicate as it is today, yet the ability to listen deeply to the heart of another and to walk in another person’s shoes has become amazingly inconvenient.What I love about music is that it inherently encourages empathy.I believe emphasis on music education leads not only to creativity and discipline, but also to the appreciation of others and of the world around us.
8. Please complete this sentence. “If I could change the world, I would…..”
If I could change the world, I would make Music a core subject in the curriculum of every school as is the case with Math and English.
9. What three words of advice would you offer to any student as they consider their future?Listen, Believe, Work.
Enjoy some of Dion's performances below:
The INSPIRE Group thanks Dr. Dion Cunningham for exemplifying excellence and being an inspiration to others. Dion, we believe that your dual focus on music and education will help enlighten many young Bahamians on the beauty and value of music, and to appreciate and hopefully advance their own creative gifts.