John Ockwell has a longstanding relationship with Sydney Youth Orchestras: he was a member of the cello section when the 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 founder Peter Seymour, who was remarkable, he says, for not getting ‘bogged down in admin work’ and being ‘always interested in giving young people the experience of music itself’. Today he conducts SYO’s Classical orchestra named for Peter Seymour.
John Ockwell is now director of Orchestra and Strings at Fort St High School in Sydney (a post he has held for the past 14 years) as well as a member of the school’s Music faculty, and he is 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.