John Ockwell

50 Years  50 Careers 

Q. When did you join SYO? In 1973 at the commencement of the SYOQ. What instruments did you play in SYO?Cello

Q. What is your favourite memory of  SYOWorking with Richard Gill and Peter SeymourQ. What role does music play in your life?It’s my world, my career and social life!Q. What is your favourite musical repertoire from the SYO performances?  I would have to say probably Mahler 1 with Robert Pikler conducting.Q. What advice would you give young musicians  today?  Play as much orchestral music as you can … with SYO and elsewhere.

John Ockwell has a longstanding relationship with Sydney Youth Orchestras: he was a member of the cello section when SYO started in 1973, and by the 1980s he was conducting junior string groups for the organisation. His inspiration as a musician and educator was SYO’s founder Peter Seymour, who was remarkable, he says “for being always interested in giving young people the experience of music itself”. 


Today John conducts SYO’s Classical period orchestra named for Peter Seymour. On top of John’s work at SYO he is also Director of Orchestra and Strings at Fort St High School in Sydney (a post he has held for the past 15 years) as well as a member of the school’s Music faculty. John is also co-conductor of The Arts Unit NSW Public Schools Symphony Orchestra. 


In previous years he has been Assistant Conductor and a steering committee member for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s Education Program, and for five years he was the Coordinator of the D.E.C. (Department of Education and Communities NSW) Primary String Festival. You can hear him playing cello in ‘The Dead Heart’ on Midnight Oil’s 1987 album Diesel and Dust, although nowadays you’re more likely to find him playing double bass. In 2022 John is passing his fourth decade as a music educator and second decade as an HSC examiner.

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