An Interview With 2011 Honens ProAm Champion David Dixon

David Dixon, Winner of the 2011 Honens ProAm. Photo by Boon Ong. When I was a Contributing Writer for Suite101, I had this opportunity to speak with David Dixon, the winner of the 2011 Honens Piano Competition for Amateurs. A reservoir engineer for Nexen Inc., David immerses himself in music after hours. This talented pianist discussed his musical studies, the Honens ProAm, jazz music, composing and life lessons gained from music.

I also interviewed Linda Kundert-Stoll, David's piano teacher, via email. Linda shared her thoughts about David's musical development and talent.

Photos were taken by Boon Ong Photography. Photo permission was granted by Honens.

David Dixon on Music Lessons and Musical Influences

“I was diddling around on the piano before I had any official lessons,” David said. Formal piano lessons began at the age of eight, under the tutelage of his mother.

When he was approximately 10 years old, David's mother began teaching him intermediate-level repertoire. “She said, 'Well, he's in Grade 5 in school, so I'll try and teach him a Grade 5 piano piece',” David reflected. “She bought the Grade 5 RCM (Royal Conservatory of Music) books and taught me a few pieces.”

David quickly progressed to more challenging repertoire. “She taught me Für Elise. I learned that in a weekend,” he said. “I learned that pretty quickly, so I just kept on going with it.”

Perhaps another contributing factor to David's rapid development were the ingenious challenges his parents gave him when began studying piano. “My dad said that if I could learn the middle movement of the Pathetique Sonata, he'd pay me a hundred dollars.” With a chuckle, he added, “Now that's some encouragement there!”

After a brief hiatus from lessons, David resumed his piano studies as a teenager. He studied with Calgary-based instructors Dr. Peter Jancewicz, Dr. Lana Henchell and Mila Brandman. For the past three years, David has been studying piano with Linda Kundert-Stoll.

David Dixon on the Honens ProAm Competition

David first became involved with the Honens ProAm in 2008, when he was declared the alternate competitor in the event of a competition withdrawal. “I got to play in a bunch of the events and enjoyed it,” he recalled. When event organizers asked David whether he would like to participate in the 2011 Honens ProAm, he eagerly agreed.

David drew from pieces he prepared for his associateship through the Royal Conservatory of Music. “I did my ARCT back in August, so I already had the repertoire learned,” David said. “I already had them at a high level so I thought I might as well keep on playing them.” For his Honens recital programme, David performed Claude Debussy's La Danse de puck and Frédéric Chopin's Scherzo in E major, op. 54, no. 4.

The 2011 Honens ProAm Pianists. Photo by Boon Ong.

The Honens ProAm is a fundraiser for the Honens International Piano Competition. It is named after philanthropist Esther Honens.

David Dixon on Life Lessons Learned from Music

There are numerous life lessons that David Dixon has learned through his musical studies. “Obviously discipline,” he said. After a few moment's thought, he added, “Appreciating subtleties and nuances of music...attention to detail.”

David is quick to admit that learning music has helped him enjoy music all the more. Music lessons help him “understand it enough to better appreciate it.”

David Dixon on Jazz Music and Creative Music

“I've always improvised at the piano,” David said. “That's what drew me to it [jazz] – being able to be more creative.”

David has also composed music for piano and small chamber music ensembles. “It's just a different way to express yourself,” he remarked.

David Dixon on Musical Outlets

David is involved with several musical projects. He plays in a jazz big band called Southern Stardust and accompanies the One Accord Choir. “That's a good outlet,” he said.

David also performs in several smaller music ensembles in Calgary. “I like the smaller groups,” David admitted. “You get a bit more freedom, a little bit more soloing space and communicating a little bit more dynamically.”

As the 2011 Honens ProAm Champion, David gained another musical outlet. His performance earned him a weekend residency at the Banff Centre.

Piano Instructor Linda Kundert-Stoll on David Dixon

In August 2011, David Dixon successfully completed his ARCT in Piano Performance from the Royal Conservatory of Music. David earned First Class Honours with Distinction.

“He played several ARCT programs while he was working to complete his theory,” commented Linda Kundert-Stoll. “From a playing level, he could have taken his ARCT earlier, but we thought it best that he finish the theory first.”

As a teacher, Linda couldn't be any happier. “I have enjoyed having him in my class immensely,” she said. “He is a huge talent: great ears, excellent facility, he learns fast and he has a great memory.”

Just how good is David? “He has what it takes to be a professional musician, should he choose to go that route,” added Linda.

David Dixon's employer can rest easy. For now, David is quite content to stick with his day job. He is even contemplating working on his MBA.

Musically, he's open to new challenges. “I'm just trying to figure out what to do next.”

Originally published on Suite101.com on November 9, 2011.