Associate Professor of Music, Undergraduate Officer and Advisor for Music

Karen Sunabacka

(519) 885-0220 ext. 24245
Office: CGUC 1108

Music Living-Learning Co-ordinator

BMus, University of Manitoba, 2000
MA, San Francisco State University, 2003
PhD, University of California Davis, 2008

Research Areas:

Women’s voices in electroacoustic music; women, girls and media images; Compositions that explore her Métis and Manitoba heritage (including works about her Métis grandmother Lenore Clouston and her great-great Scottish grandmother Mathilda Clouston); the sounds of the Canadian wilderness (including prairie storms, the wind, and Manitoba winters.)

Courses Taught:

Music 270 - Music Theory 1
Music 271 - Music Theory 2
Music 370 - Music Theory 3
Music 371 - Music Theory 4
Music 376 - Composition Seminar
Music 390 - Special Topics: Orchestration and Arranging



Karen Sunabacka is an Associate Professor of Music at Conrad Grebel University College, where she teaches Music Theory and composition. Her compositions have been performed in Canada, the USA, Brazil and the United Kingdom. She has recently written works for Orchestre Métropolitain (Montreal), the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, Conrad Grebel University College Choirs, Park Sounds and smaller pieces for solo bass clarinet, solo piano and a duet for viola and cello. Along with pieces about the natural beauty and winds of the Prairies, Karen has also been exploring her Métis and Manitoba heritage. She composed I Wasn’t Meant for This (2019) and Mama’s Painting: Louis Riel’s Dream(2015) about her Métis Grandmother (Lenore Clouston) using text written by her mother, Joyce Clouston. She also explored her heritage in two commissioned works for the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra: Never to Return, a piece about Karen’s great-great Grandmother Mathilda who suffered from mental illness and Born by the River, another piece about her Métis grandmother Lenore. In February 2018 Karen was a finalist for the 21e Prix Opus (2016-2017) in the category Création de l’année (Composition of the year) for the piece De Natura Sonorum which was commissioned by Orchestre Metropolitain. Karen won the Canadian Music Centre, Prairie Region, Emerging Composers Competition in February 2009 with her orchestral composition And There Was A Great Calm. Karen is an active member and past board member of the Canadian New Music Network and she is a board member for Groundswell (Winnipeg’s New Music Series) and NUMUS. She founded Pressure Waves in Winnipeg (now a regular part of Groundswell’s Emerging Composer program.) 

Karen Sunabacka teaches a music class at a piano

Selected Publications:


  • English Horn Concerto in Memory of Beverly Clouston for Solo English Horn and Orchestra” (commissioned by Orchestre Métropolitain) Premiere: October 10, 2019. Length: 19 min.
  • “I Wasn’t Meant for This for viola d’amore and percussion” (commissioned by Park Sounds with the support of the Canada Council for the Arts) Premiere: October 6, 2019. Length: 12 min.
  • “Ripples for viola and cello” (commissioned by Karla Hamelin and Ames Asbell with the support of Texas State University) Premiere: October 28, 2019 in Austin, Texas. Length: 8 min.
  • “We all Sing for choir and audience” (commissioned by Conrad Grebel University College) Premiered in September 2018 and performed throughout the 2018-2019 academic school year. Length: Varies depending on chosen parts to be sung, and the number of repetitions, but generally between 3-7 min.
  • “#DryColdConversations” (commissioned by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra) Premiered on January 31, 2018 in Winnipeg, MB during the New Music Festival. Length: 12 min.
  • “IV The Prairies” for De Natura Sonorum a five-movement collaborative piece for orchestra, where each composer wrote a movement depicting their own natural region of Canada. (Commissioned by Orchestre Métropolitain Montréal) Length: 5 min. Premiered on February 22 and 24, 2017 in Montreal.
  • "Across the Grasslands" (commissioned by the Regina Symphony Orchestra) Premiered on September 17, 2016 in Regina, SK. Length: 5 min.
  • "All Night a Dark Wind Blows for hyperflute" (commissioned by GroundSwell, written for Cléo Palacio-Quintin). Premiered by Cléo Palacio-Quintin in Montreal on February 4, 2016 and then toured in Western Canada. Final concert in Winnipeg on February 24, 2016 presented by GroundSwell. Length: 10 min.
  • "Mama’s Painting: Louis Riel’s Dream for Piano Quintet" (2 vlns, vla, vcl, pno) (commissioned by Agassiz Chamber Music Festival with the support of the Manitoba Arts Council). Premiered at the Agassiz Chamber music festival on June 6, 2015. Length: 20 min.
  • "Never to Return for string orchestra" (commissioned by the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra with the support of the Manitoba Arts Council). Premiered by the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra on 27th November 2013. Length: 10 min.
  • "Born By The River for string orchestra" (commissioned by the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra with the support of the Manitoba Arts Council). Premiered by the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra on 19th February 2013. Length: 5 min.
  • "Curlicue for solo piano" (commissioned by the 2010 Eckhardt-Gramatté National Music Competition with the support of the Canada Council for the Arts) Performed by all competitors recorded for broadcast on CBC radio 2 during April 30 – May 2, 2010. Length: 10 min.

Selected Activities:

Conference Papers/Presentations

  • “Reclaiming the Voices of Métis Women in Mama’s Painting: Louis Riel’s Dream” Presented at the Nora Conference 2019: Border Regimes, Territorial Discourses and Feminist Politics on the pre-proposed panal “Auto/Biographies of “Indigenization”: Reclaiming Home” with Lori Campbel, Julie Kate Seirlis and Heather George. Reykjavík, Iceland. May 24, 2019.
  • Music, Canada 150 and Indigenous Peoples” workshop given to campers and staff at the Ontario Mennonite Music Camp at Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, ON. August 21, 2018.
  • “Composing our Stories: Inspired by Family and the Prairies” presented for McNally Robinson’s Meet the Composer series in Winnipeg, Canada. March 2016.
  • “Composing my Music” presented to the Composers’ Workshop at the Faculty of Music, University of Cambridge, England. November 2014.
  • “Pre-concert talk with Conductor James Sommerville and composer Karen Sunabacka about Never to Return” presented for McNally Robinson’s Meet the Composer series in Winnipeg, Canada. A Special pre-concert presentation for the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra. November 2013.
  • “’This is My Story’: Listening to the Female voice in the Electroacoustic Music of Wende Bartley and Diana McIntosh” Presented for Listening in/to Canada. The third annual Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Music in Canada working group (a sub group of the Canadian University Music Society), in Sackville, New Brunswick. May 2011.
  • “Her Voice, Her Sound, Her Scream, Her Story: Women Composers, Performers and Characters in the Late Twentieth Century”presented for Lift Up Her Voice: Women’s Identity in Theological, Historical, and Artistic Perspectives. The Annual Faculty Forum at Providence University College in Otterburne, Manitoba. November 2010
  • “’That Other Voice, Wordless and Terrible’: The Life Giving Screams of Rachel Cameron, Alice Bag, Yoko Ono and Buffy the Vampire Slayer” presented for The Second Annual Symposium of The Canadian Institute for the Study of Pop Culture and Religion in Winnipeg, Manitoba, November 2010.
  • “Screaming Away Death and Violence: Alice Bag, Yoko Ono and Buffy the Vampire Slayer” presented for Space of Violence, Sites of Resistance: Music, Media and Performance a conference of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music in Regina, Saskatchewan. June 2010
  • “Women Composers, the Female Voice and Electroacoustic Music” presented for Feminist Theory and Music 10 conference in Greensboro, North Carolina. June 2009.


  • April 2019: We all Sing by Karen Sunabacka. Conducted final performance of commissioned piece for “Grebel Sings!” at Conrad Grebel University College Convocation 2019. Waterloo, ON.
  • May 2018: Mama’s Painting: Louis Riel’s Dream by Karen Sunabacka. Performed by the Winnipeg Chamber Music Society (Gwen Hoebig, violin; Karl Stobbe, violin; Dan Scultz, viola; Yuri Hooker, cello; David Moroz, piano) and Karen Sunabacka, narrator at a GroundSwell series concert in Winnipeg, MB.
  • February 2018: Mama’s Painting: Louis Riel’s Dream by Karen Sunabacka. Performed by Marcus Scholtes, violin; Sharon Lee, violin; Rebecca Diderrich, viola; Miriam Stewart-Kroeker, cello; Heidi Wall, piano; Karen Sunabacka, narrator at a Conrad Grebel Music Department Noon Hour Concert in Waterloo, ON.
  • February 2018: A Mother’s Prayer for solo cello by Karen Sunabacka. Performed by Karen Sunabacka at a Conrad Grebel Music Department Noon Hour Concert in Waterloo, ON.
  • July 2018: 100 Very Good Reasons Why---(for 100 electric guitars) by Tim Brady. Conductor for Part 3 at The Stratford Summer Music Festival in Stratford, ON.
  • April 2017: Arioso for cello and Piano by J.S. Bach. Performed with Tracey Regier Sawatzky at Graduation Banquet, Providence University College in Otterburne, Manitoba.
  • December 2016: Sonata III for cello and continuo by A. Vivaldi. Performed with Darryl Friesen at Festival of Christmas Praise, Providence University College in Otterburne, Manitoba
  • April 2016: “Prelude” from Suite No 1 for solo violoncello in G major by J.S. Bach. Performed at Providence Theological Seminary Graduation ceremony in Otterburne, Manitoba.
  • March 2016: Piano Trio in B-flat major, Opus 97 by L. van Beethoven. Performed with Albert Bergen (Violin) and Darry Friesen (piano) at Faculty Concert, Providence University College in Otterburne, Manitoba.
  • March 2015: Great Mass in C minor by Mozart and Symphony No 34 in C Major by Mozart. Performed with the Haslingfield Choir and Orchestra with Graham Walker Conducting. Haslingfiled Church in Cambridgeshire, England.
  • September 2015: Symphony No 7 by Shostakovich, Mass in B minor by J. S. Bach. Performed with Cambridge Community Orchestra, Cambridge Voices with Peter Britton and Ian de Massini conducting. Cambridge, UK.
  • April-May 2014: Tour to Brazil with Providence Music Department and Chamber Singers. Performed in numerous Venues in Fortaleza, Brazil.
  • March 2014:Fantasia & Capriccio by Fanny Mendelsohn-Hensel. Performed with Darryl Friesen (piano). Spring Concert, Providence University College in Otterburne, Manitoba.
  • February 2014: Piano Trio in G minor, op. 17 by Clara Schumann. Performed with Albert Bergen (violin) and Darryl Friesen (piano) at Emmanuel Mennonite Church. Winkler, Manitoba.
  • March 2013: Elegy op. 3 no 1 by S. Rachmaninoff, “Am Abend da es kühle war – Mache dich, mein Herze, rein” from St. Matthew Passion by J.S Bach, Piano Trio in C minor by F. Mendelssohn. Performed with Darryl Friesen (piano), Ray Giesbrecht (voice) and Albert Bergen (violin).
  • March 2012: Trio in C  by Joseph Haydn and Spaces Between by Karen Sunabacka and Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor by Felix Mendelssohn. Tavola-Tecla Trio (Albert Bergen, violin; Karen Sunabacka, cello; and Darryl Friesen, piano.) Trio Concert at Providence University College in Otterburne, Manitoba.


  • January-February 2018: Mentor Composer for the Winnipeg New Music Festival Composers’ Institute. Gave composition lessons and masterclasses, was a panelist for numerous workshops and pre-concert talks and assisted student composers during rehearsals and performances.   
  • The Canadian Music Centre (CMC), Associate Composer (since summer 2010)
  • The Canadian League of Composers, Member
  • Groundswell (Winnipeg’s New Music Series), Board Member since 2006
  • Canadian New Music Network, Member, Board Member 2010-2012
  • The International Alliance for Women in Music (IAWM), Member
  • April-May 2014: Faculty director and coordinator of tour to Fortaleza, Brazil. Taught Composition and Cello masterclasses and performed with local musicians. Performance of "Curlicue (for solo piano)" during a final collaborative production of Providence University College and the Universidade Estadual do Ceará
  • Founder and first Director of Pressure Waves a new composers’ workshop in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Fellowships and Awards

  • February 2018: Finalist for the 21e Prix Opus (2016-2017) in the category Création de l’année (Composition of the year) for the piece De Natura Sonorum by Hartery/David/Ware/Sunabacka/E. Champagne, commissioned by Orchestre Metropolitain (Montreal).
  • February 2009: And There Was a Great Calm, (the winning work of the CMC Emerging Composers Composition) performed at Winnipeg’s New Music Festival on February 2. 
  • June 2006: University of California Graduate Student Teaching Award.
  • June 2006: Graduate Student Association Travel Award.
  • 2003-2007: Valente Fellowship, University of California, Davis.
  • 2001-2003: Nagel & Pone Scholarships in Music, San Francisco State University.
  • September 2000: On the Shores chosen work to be performed by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra in Vancouver, BC in a Reading session.
  • 2000-2001: University of Victoria Teaching Fellowship and Cathcart Bursary.
  • October 1999: Awarded a trip to attend Contrasts, an International New Music Festival in L’viv, Ukraine.
  • April 1999: School of Music Representative in Students’ Teacher Recognition Reception.
  • 1998 & 1996: Richardson Scholarship in Music.
  • 1997: Leonard Isaacs Scholarship.
University of Waterloo

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