Dana Cunningham is a pianist, composer, arranger, and performer who seeks, in her life and work, to weave music with spoken word, art-making with spiritual growth, classical training with improvisation, and solitude with collaboration. Her empathic and deep attentiveness translates experiences of awe, grief, and joy into her compelling compositions.
Dana has a degree in Communication from Vanderbilt University, where she also studied piano at The Blair School of Music. From there, the strands of her musical and spiritual longing led her to weave in other threads, including a Masters in Biblical Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary, study at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, CA as well as a nine-month sabbatical at Our Lady of Guadalupe Monastery, a Benedictine community near Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Originally from Texas, Dana now lives and works in the White Mountains of New Hampshire where she has found the spaciousness and inspiration for five critically acclaimed recordings. She continues to perform and share her unique offerings in concert and retreat settings.
Deeply moving, soul-freeing, centering, transcendent - these words describe the music of pianist Dana Cunningham, but also describe qualities of the artist herself. If you are lucky enough to be walking by her farmhouse on a warm autumn day, hearing her could feel like a gentle breeze coming off the White Mountains that frame her world in the hills of New Hampshire.
Will Ackerman, the founder of Windham Hill records, finds Dana Cunningham to be a “brilliant player whose music speaks substantive volumes. Whatever she plays is invested with emotion. Her music communicates." There is a profound awareness of the space between the notes -- perhaps this is why many people say they can listen to her music over and over again, even in the same sitting.
Dana is most interested in sharing her music in intimate settings such as retreats, house concerts, and small venues where, in addition to her music, she often recites the poetry of Rumi, Rilke, Mary Oliver and David Whyte. It is her hope that in such contexts she offers people an experience that touches a deeper part of themselves than they anticipated.
Quoting the Dali Lama, Cunningham states that 'the only possibility for peace in the world is through individual transformation.' She believes that nurturing our deeper, more hidden ways of knowing and being, opens us to our common ground with one another. It is Dana’s profound hope that her music contributes to the possibility of peace, one small sphere of influence at a time.
Influenced early on by her mother's love for the romantic and impressionist composers such as Chopin, Ravel, Debussy and Satie, Cunningham's compositions have a lyrical, flowing quality, like "the reflection of water shimmering on a wall." But they also have a grounded earthiness revealing her life long love of the elements. Having spent her childhood years in the canyons of the Texas panhandle and the Colorado Rockies, and now living among the mountains and waters of New England, Dana feels fed on a cellular level by the soulfulness of the world, of the earth, listening to water in all its forms, watching the light bring everything to life.
Dana also believes that she would not be the composer she is today without having grown up singing the old southern hymns - cultural treasures full of meaning for so many people. This influence has infused her playing with an ineffable sense of spirit.
It is with this sensitivity that she seeks to bring both freshness and integrity to her original work, as well as to her interpretations of carols and hymns. The familiar melodies, often elongated and embedded in her own arrangements, come from her own quiet listening to how they might want to be played, again, as if for the first time.