Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Seymour, Peter James (1932–1987)

by Ann Carr-Boyd

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Peter James Seymour (1932–1987), choirmaster and conductor, was born on 2 March 1932 at Malvern, Melbourne, son of Victorian-born parents James Thomas Clarke Seymour, bank clerk, and his wife Mary Irene, née Beard. Peter’s parents later farmed at Alexandra. He attended state schools before boarding at Ivanhoe Grammar School, where his interest in music was awakened by one of the masters, James Murray. He obtained a primary teacher’s certificate from Melbourne Teachers’ College and then studied music at the University of Melbourne (Mus.Bac., 1959).

After a short period teaching in the late 1950s, Seymour went to England, joining the staff of Lascelles Secondary Modern School, Harrow. He achieved such success in introducing music to the students that he attracted the attention of Peter Houldsworth, a teacher at the nearby Harrow School. When Houldsworth was subsequently appointed headmaster of Sydney Grammar School, he created a position for Seymour there late in 1965. The following year Seymour became head of the music department.

Seymour strongly supported the introduction of compulsory violin teaching in the preparatory school, as well as building on existing choral and instrumental teaching. Major choral and orchestral works were performed and the excellence of the choir ensured that the Australian Opera, the Australian Broadcasting Commission and the Sydney Philharmonia Society often called on it to take part in performances. Seymour’s tenure marked a period of great musical activity at Sydney Grammar School but the innovations introduced by him also spread to many other schools and helped to cause something of a revolution in elevating the importance of music as part of the curriculum. After leaving his teaching post in 1977, Seymour worked with the Australian Opera from 1977 to 1984, variously as chorus master, conductor and music co-ordinator.

Throughout his career Seymour contributed greatly to many community music groups. As a percussionist he was a member of the first Australian Youth Orchestra in 1957. Founder (1973) of the Sydney Youth Orchestra, he served as the musical director and chairman (for many years in the period 1973-87) of its parent organisation, the National Music Camp Association. As the founder (1968) and musical director of the Sydney Philharmonia Society (previously the Hurlstone Choral Society), he conducted memorable performances of choral music, encompassing pieces by Handel through to Gilbert and Sullivan. Under the umbrella of the Sydney Philharmonia he gave performance opportunities to the then fledgling Australian Chamber Orchestra, the Song Company and its founder Charles Coleman, and the Sydney Children’s Choir under its director Lyn Williams. He was a member of the music board of the Australia Council and of the cultural grants advisory council of the New South Wales office of the minister for the arts.

A musical educator with special gifts of communication and innovation, Seymour was renowned for his drive and energy. Francois Kunc, a former student at Sydney Grammar School who was later a colleague and chorus member, described Seymour as ‘pasty white and very thin. He always burnt the candle at both ends and, I think, paid the price physically. He had a high pitched, cackley laugh, a wonderful sense of humour and a real twinkle in his eye . . . he had a beautiful, light, lyrical, tenor voice’. Seymour brought out the best in people, and inspired loyalty—a fortunate characteristic, as he expected others to work as hard as he did. Despite his own outstanding musical abilities, Seymour was keen to make music part of everyone’s life, whatever their talent.

On 31 December 1957 at St Peter’s Church of England, Eastern Hill, Melbourne, Seymour married Nicola Snekker, a flautist. Divorced in 1970, he married Melanie Rees, a librarian, on 15 June 1973 at the registrar general’s office, Sydney. In December 1976 he was appointed OBE. He died of cancer on 20 March 1987 at Camperdown, Sydney, and was buried in the Alexandra cemetery, near his father as he had requested. His wife and their son and daughter, and the son and three daughters of his first marriage, survived him. The Peter Seymour Orchestra of the Sydney Youth Orchestras was named for him.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Turney, Grammar (1989)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 25 Feb 1984, p 43, 24 Mar 1987, p 14
  • 2MBS-FM Programme Guide, Mar 1989, p 4
  • private information

Citation details

Ann Carr-Boyd, 'Seymour, Peter James (1932–1987)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/seymour-peter-james-15906/text27107, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 17 September 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

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