Karen Sunabacka composer
Darryl Friesen piano

Release Date: September 23, 2022
Catalog #: RR8074
Format: Digital
21st Century
Solo Instrumental

Wide skies, whistling winds, and a love for the great outdoors take center stage on Karen Sunabacka’s CURLICUE, a collection of eight works for solo piano performed by Darryl Friesen. Each piece tells a story of Sunabacka’s wilderness adventures, from the titular Curlicue’s explorations of the twists, turns, and curls of a river, to Falling in the Water’s conjuration of girls jumping into water and sheets of rain pummeling tents, to Lost’s encapsulation of the fear and dread of losing one’s way. Friesen’s crisp performance brings each piece to life, transporting listeners to the Canadian woodlands and prairies for an adventure all their own.


Hear the full album on YouTube

Track Listing & Credits

# Title Composer Performer
01 Curlicue Karen Sunabacka Darryl Friesen, piano 12:10
02 Hiding Karen Sunabacka Darryl Friesen, piano 3:59
03 …our inner lives were entwined…embroidered with the same pattern Karen Sunabacka Darryl Friesen, piano 4:51
04 Falling in the Water Karen Sunabacka Darryl Friesen, piano; the recorded voices of the 2004 Manitoba Pioneer Camp Girls Leaders-in-Training program, electronics 10:23
05 A Canoe on a Lake Karen Sunabacka Darryl Friesen, piano 0:51
06 Falling Water Karen Sunabacka Darryl Friesen, piano 10:53
07 Lost Karen Sunabacka Darryl Friesen, piano 2:48
08 Spider Solitaire Karen Sunabacka Darryl Friesen, piano 18:09

Recorded November 9-10, 2021 at Revolution Recording in Toronto, Canada
Session Producer Earl McCluskie
Session Engineer Luke Schindler

Falling in the Water
Karen Sunabacka recorded the voices and the sounds of nature (water, wind, thunder…etc) in June & July 2004 in Northwestern Ontario. Voices are the 2004 Manitoba Pioneer Camp, Girls Camp, Leaders-in-Training (six 16-year-old girls) with their two leaders (Karen Sunabacka was one of the leaders). They were recorded and their voices used with permission.

Executive Producer Bob Lord

A&R Director Brandon MacNeil

VP of Production Jan Košulič
Audio Director Lucas Paquette

VP, Design & Marketing Brett Picknell
Art Director Ryan Harrison
Design Edward A. Fleming
Publicity Patrick Niland, Aidan Curran

Artist Information

Karen Sunabacka

Karen Sunabacka


Composer Karen Sunabacka often finds inspiration from puzzles, stories, and her Métis and mixed European heritage. She has deep roots in the Red River Area (what is now known as Manitoba, Canada) and feels a strong connection to the Métis, Scottish, Swedish and Finnish cultures. This mix of cultural connections sometimes creates conflicts and new perspectives which she finds both interesting and challenging. Her music reflects this cultural mix through the exploration of the sounds and stories of the Canadian prairies.

Darryl Friesen

Darryl Friesen


Darryl Friesen has given acclaimed performances as a soloist and collaborative artist across Canada, the United States, Europe, China, and Brazil. He has performed as soloist with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, and as a collaborator and recitalist with many distinguished artists, including Elliot Madore, Andrew Wan, Allen Harrington, Catherine Daniel, Millicent Scarlett, Valdine Anderson, the Adaskin String Trio, and the Martha Graham Dance Company. Friesen’s debut album, CURLICUE: The Solo Piano Works of Karen Sunabacka, was released by Ravello Records in September 2022.



Karen Sunabacka and Darryl Friesen

The solo piano works recorded here were inspired by my love of storytelling and deep connections to the wide skies and whistling winds of my prairie home. Also explored is my love of rushing rivers and lakes in the Canadian shield, where I spent many summers camping in the wilderness. CURLICUE refers to the title track, but also reflects the twists, turns, and curls of canoe trips, water, and life as explored in these compositions.

Curlicue, a piece with dramatic shifts in register and timbre, explores two pentatonic scales and the Phrygian scale. Hiding, a playful and twisted waltz, uses non-traditional pitch material introduced in the first seven measures. I use a similar pitch technique in …our inner lives were entwined…, but the piece is also a personal exploration of the complicated and rich relationships between my aunt, my mother, and me.

Falling in the Water (for solo piano and electronics) explores the exhilarating sounds of water on a wilderness canoe trip through rushing rapids, teenage girls leaping off cliffs, sheets of water running down tent walls, and clattering thunderstorms. This piece includes an electronic track with recorded sounds and voices while the live piano enhances the soundscape with motives that mimic the sounds of water. Falling Water focuses on the water motives only and is developed into a separate piece without electronics. A Canoe on a Lake is a spirited musical picture of a canoe on water that explores the whole-tone scale within a palindrome.

Lost explores darker sounds and emotions with a focus on the minor second and major seventh, whereas Spider Solitaire takes the listener through the twists and turns of a single game of computer solitaire.

— Karen Sunabacka

Curlicue (2009) is a three-section piece that gradually moves from a fast to slow tempo, a loud to soft dynamic, and a thick to thin texture—in contrast to many Canadian works that move in the reverse of these traits. The pitch material is based on three scales: two pentatonic (C,Db,E,G,Ab) (C,Db,Eb,F,A) and a Phrygian (C,Db,Eb,F,G,Ab,Bb). These scales have a distinctive character because of the initial half-step between the first and second scale degrees. Throughout the piece I make use of all the registers of the piano. The first section generally stays in the low registers, while the third and final section tends to be in the high registers. However, I did find that I often wanted to move up and down through all registers in each section of the piece. From the initial downward swirl of the opening measures through the scalar curls and sweeps of the middle section (in imitation of a Debussy prelude) to the chorale-like curves of the final section, this piece is a multitude of curls, curves and twists.

— Karen Sunabacka

Hiding (1999) is a piece based on two collections of six pitches also known as pitch-class sets (A,G#,C,C#,D#,E) and (B,A#,D,G,F,F#). Writing with pitch-class sets allowed me to get away from the standard major and minor scales and yielded some fun results. The sets are presented right at the beginning through chords and pizzicati inside the piano and then develop from there. The piece was completed towards the end of my undergraduate degree at the University of Manitoba

— Karen Sunabacka

…our inner lives were entwined…embroidered with the same pattern (2021) is a quote from my mom Joyce Clouston’s story My Sister/Myself. My mom was the third child in a family of seven children. Her sister, Beverley, the oldest child in the family, was medically fragile and physically disabled after complications at birth and experienced days-long seizures at age six. The family lived on a farm, and for many years Joyce often helped to ensure Beverley’s safety.

To explore the interconnectedness between my aunt and mom through music, I developed motives from the letters of both their names and nicknames. The opening states these motivic nicknames in the upper register of the piano: Bevvie = B E A A B E and Joycie = C A D C B E. I also created collections from their full names: Beverley and Joyce. Through transpositions and transformations of the pitch-material, presented in an arch-like form, I depict the ups and downs of their lives, their relationship with each other, and their relationships with those around them. Beverley was an amazing aunt with a zeal for life, an ability to state the uncomfortable truth, and to love deeply.

— Karen Sunabacka

Falling in the Water (2008) is for solo piano with electronics. The electronic part was largely composed using the recorded voices of six teenage girls in a Leader-in-Training (LIT) program and me and another woman leaders. I gathered the recordings in June and July of 2004, while I was the director of this program at a wilderness camp situated on Lake of the Woods in northern Ontario. I worked at this camp for four months every summer during my early 20s. It was a wonderful experience, and I was always amazed by the changes and growth of the girls in the LIT program. I wanted to share with others the resilience and strength of these teenage girls as they negotiated a two-week wilderness canoe trip down a river and a demanding two-week leadership program at the site of the camp. With the permission of the camp and the girls in the program, I recorded highlights. Falling in the Water is the result of a portion of my recordings, and focuses on our different experiences of water during the canoe trip portion of the program.

— Karen Sunabacka

A Canoe on a Lake (2010) is written for young pianists, and is a palindrome based on a whole tone scale. In composing it, I created a picture of a canoe on a lake with music…literally! If you were to lay the music out continuously in a line and connect the noteheads (like connecting the dots), it would result in a picture of that canoe on water.

— Karen Sunabacka

Falling Water (2009) is based on the water motives originally composed for Falling in the Water. However, the shape of the piece is different since it does not have to serve the electronic part—so the water motives can grow and evolve. There is a more continuous texture and an expansion of the basic themes and motives.

— Karen Sunabacka

Lost (1997) is an exploration of darker sounds and emotions. It was the first piece I wrote as a composition major at the University of Manitoba. I was inspired by a Bartok piece that explores minor seconds and major sevenths and so I created this piece based on the same intervals.

— Karen Sunabacka

Spider Solitaire (2020) was started in 2011 as an attempt to prove to myself that playing solitaire on my computer was not a complete waste of time. I’m not sure the attempt was successful, but it did reduce the amount of time I spent playing the game! I became obsessed with trying to depict in music the way the game slowly untangles (disorder to order.) This composition is the result of multiple attempts. There are five unique melodic ideas, all stated at the beginning of the piece. The first is a depiction of the 10 empty spaces through the use of trills, so that, when an empty place becomes available, a trill is heard. The remaining four melodic ideas represent the four suites (hearts, spades, diamonds, clubs) in order from lowest to highest (Ace to King). Rests indicate the movement from one “play” to another. A clap signals a summary of the cards on the table, and a slap indicates a card being flipped.

— Karen Sunabacka