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Carrie Tennant

Woman with long straight hair, smiling and wearing a red and white striped top.
  • Category: Presidents' Alumni Award
  • UVic degree: Bachelor of Music in Music Education, 1999; Teaching Certificate from Faculty of Education, 2000
  • Current hometown: Vancouver, BC
  • Birthplace: Vancouver, BC

About Carrie

For the past 20 years, Carrie Tennant has worked with young singers, developing their leadership and artistry. She is currently the founder and artistic director of the Vancouver Youth Choir. Carrie’s choirs have won several awards and have performed at international events in Istanbul and New York City. Carrie is also an affiliate conductor with the Vancouver Chamber Choir, and a frequent clinician, adjudicator and guest conductor across North America and around the world. She is the editor and curator for two choral series: the Vancouver Youth Choir Choral Series (Cypress Publishing), which promotes diverse Canadian voices on the international stage; and the brand new Carrie Tennant Choral Series (Hal Leonard). She received the 2023 YWCA Women of Distinction Award for Arts and Culture, and in a past life she toured, performed and recorded with her husband as a member of Vancouver-based indie-pop group the Salteens.

What is a favourite memory of attending UVic as a student?

Most of my favourite memories are in the music department, playing in the ensembles with Gerald King who was the Music Ed and Wind Symphony director, and then singing in the choirs with Bruce More who took the chamber singers all over the world on tours. I went to Korea and Thailand and China with him and the choir. He was an incredible mentor and a fantastic role model, and he let me conduct in Korea. That gave me the conducting bug. It was really a transformative experience for me.

How did UVic shape who you?

That spirit of thinking outside the box—I really have carried that forward with me. But also the music education department—it was incredible. I walked out of that program ready to be a successful teacher in the public system, and I didn't realize at the time that that was not the norm until I connected with other first-year teachers from other post-secondary programs who were overwhelmed and treading water and couldn't handle it. Even though I'm not a teacher in the traditional sense now, I think a lot of the foundational principles and methodology comes from that strong background of music ed from UVic. 

What skills are needed to be good at what you do?

Work ethic and a passion for building community, and an understanding about how important that is. Authenticity is also something that I talk a lot about with my singers, and being completely yourself in your art-making.

What’s a valuable piece of advice someone has given you?

My mentor was Diane Loomer, who founded Elektra Women’s Choir, and the Chor Leoni Men's Choir, and she was one of those magical people. She started her career in her 40s, and she always said to me that life is long and you have a million opportunities to invent yourself and to reinvent yourself. That's something I talk about with the kids who are stressed out about what they are going to be for the rest of their lives. You have a long time. I was a public-school teacher for almost 10 years. And then I started this organization, and that was a real reinventing of myself. There's lots of opportunities to be who you are and to change and decide again who you are.

What motivates you?

I am a “What's next? What's next?” sort of person. I'm hungry to grow, and I'm hungry for my singers to grow. I love this art form. I love what happens when people are in a room bringing their voices together, and not just because of the great art that is possible—because that is so exciting to me, those moments of goose-bumpy beauty—but what it does to the people in the room, human-wise. For example, I make the audience sing at every concert, and after singing together, the energy in the space shifts. It’s the same thing if you share a meal with someone. There's this eons-ago humanity of breaking bread together that builds social bonds, and singing is very much like that. And that's what drives me.

Do you have a go-to karaoke song? 

I try to avoid karaoke because people expect me to be so good at it. And karaoke is mostly about selling it,” and I am an introvert. I might have a nice voice, but getting out there and really working the crowd—it's not my jam. But I would say my go-to song is [Dolly Parton’s] “9 to 5.”

What's a secret talent you have that might surprise people?

I have crazy reflexes. I can catch anything. You can throw me anything like keys with no notice. It's a weird skill. 

What is the last great thing you've watched or read?

I loved [the TV show] The Bear. A bunch of my singers have watched it, and they've started saying, “Yes, chef!” to me. 

About the Distinguished Alumni Awards

Nominations for the 2024 awards are now closed. Nominations for the 2025 Distinguished Alumni Awards are open through Oct. 18, 2024.