CALL FOR APPLICATIONS: Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Symphony for Life Foundation

Employment:                    Permanent Part-time

Reports to:                        Board of Directors

Remuneration:                 More information: Jonathan Abednego, 0434 062 818

Email applications to       Jonathon Abednego, AND to Richard Letts,


VISION.  The Symphony for Life vision is to inspire and enrich the lives of children through learning and playing music. We believe that all children, regardless of socioeconomic or cultural background, should have the opportunity to experience the joy of learning and playing a musical instrument. We especially seek to include children who never have had the chance to do so, with at least half of the program reserved for children from disadvantaged families.

WHERE. The Symphony for Life program is based in suburbs directly to the west of Parramatta: Wentworthville and Constitution Hill. Children attend Symphony for Life after school two days per week throughout the school year.

WHAT. Symphony for Life is probably the only music program in NSW to provide children with a free music program comprising weekly music workshops, individual instrumental music lessons given by professional musicians on loaned instruments, orchestral rehearsals and performances. Beyond that, the program has many imaginative, innovative aspects.

FUNDS. Symphony for Life is a community initiative and is entirely dependent upon donations. It has no regular government support.

COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT. Symphony for Life, following loosely as a model the El Sistema program of Venezuela, plans also to contribute to community cohesion and development through special aspects of its program.


1. The role

 The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) is a newly funded role, reporting to The Symphony for Life Foundation Board. The CEO will have full oversight and responsibility for the company’s operations including the company budget of approximately $500,000 (FY23 annual budget target). The CEO will effectively and publicly represent, promote and advocate for the Symphony for Life Foundation and its vision.

With the support of the Board, the CEO will have responsibility for growing and maturing the company in line with its strategic directions – to “extend our impact” and to “grow a healthy organisation”. This broadly includes leading a staff team comprising a part-time Director of Programs and music teaching artists, volunteers and a contract accountant and philanthropy consultant. A key priority for the CEO will be the financial sustainability of the company, including achievement of annual fundraising targets and expense management.

The CEO role is permanent and flexible part-time, beginning as a 0.4 position and expanding as required. The role is Sydney-based and will be required to work from home, and at other locations, as and when required. The CEO is expected to attend monthly meetings of the Board.


2. Primary responsibilities

The key responsibilities for the CEO include:

Strategic leadership:

  • Working collaboratively with the Board to develop and deliver organisational vision, mission, and strategy.
  • Promoting and advocating effectively and publicly for the company with external stakeholders including partners, supporters, and donors.


Organisational leadership:

  • Translating organisational vision, mission, and strategy into an annual business plan with measurable goals and key performance indicators.
  • Leading a staff and volunteer team including a Director of Programs, who has responsibility for the company’s programs and teaching artists.
  • Maintaining organisational policies and procedures including work, health and safety for staff and children (program participants).
  • Ensuring full and timely compliance with regulatory, legislative and contractual requirements.


Financial leadership:

  • Working collaboratively with the Treasurer (Board) to manage company income and expenditure, within agreed delegations and with the support of a contract Accountant.
  • Growing company revenue with a primary focus on fundraising with the support of a contract Philanthropy Consultant.
  • Working collaboratively with the Finance & Audit Committee to develop the annual operating budget and quarterly operating forecasts.



The CEO reports to the Board of The Symphony for Life Foundation. The role will lead a staff and volunteer team including a part-time Director of Programs (who has responsibility for music teaching staff), a contract Accountant and a contract Philanthropy Consultant. The CEO is expected to establish, nurture and maintain strong working relationships with the Board, its patrons and other external stakeholders including partners, donors and supporters.


FINAL DATE FOR APPLICATION                    February 17

ANNOUNCEMENT OF SHORT LIST                By February 27

INTERVIEWS                                                    By March 4

SELECTION                                                      March 7

COMMENCEMENT                                           By March 14


Add space as needed



PHONE                              EMAIL

WEB ADDRESS if you wish




Email application to Jonathon Abednego, AND to Richard Letts,

  • New students join an Orff workshop, where they learn music fundamentals, singing, playing special instruments in ensembles, inventing music, musical skills that are less accessible to beginners via the very difficult orchestral string instruments.
  • Instrument loan and individual weekly lessons. From their second term, each child is loaned an orchestral instrument and in addition to the weekly workshop, is given an individual half hour weekly lesson by a professional teacher. They take their instrument home to practise and also use it in the workshop in addition to the ‘Orff instruments’.
  • Formation of beginners’ orchestra. When the ability of the workshop members is sufficiently advanced, the workshop transforms into a beginning children’s orchestra.
  • Orchestras at three levels. From mid-2023, Symphony for Life will maintain orchestras at three levels and students will gradually advance over a number of years from the beginners’ orchestra, through the second level orchestra to the top level, advanced, orchestra.
  • Public performances. Children perform in regular in-house concerts and the more advanced students perform in orchestra or in small ensembles in the community both for experience and as a community contribution.
  • Progress measured. Beginning in 2023, the progress of each student will be assessed within Symphony for Life through an internationally tested procedure. Students are also encouraged to sit for Australian Music Examinations Board exams and assisted in their preparation.
  • Special music composed. Symphony for Life each year commissions special works for children’s orchestra from Australian composers. Some music or composers come from the countries of origin of the children’s families. Some composers work in person with the orchestra to rehearse the works. Not all music is written in Europe or America!
  • Percussion workshops. Beginning in 2023, members of the advanced orchestra will participate in special weekly percussion workshops to acquire sophisticated rhythmic skills.
  • Towards a symphony orchestra. At present, all Symphony for Life orchestras are for violins, violas, cellos and double basses. Beginning in 2023, it is planned to add instruction in woodwind instruments, brass in 2024, percussion in 2025, and in 2026 to begin to add these instruments to the advanced orchestra to transform into a full symphony orchestra.
  • Creation of new instrumental ensembles. As each instrumental family is introduced, a relevant ensemble will form and rehearse: woodwind ensemble, brass ensemble, percussion ensemble. These ensembles also will give public concerts. Those players who are the most suitable and advanced will in due course join the symphony orchestra.
  • Music improvisation. Regular instruction in music improvisation – the invention/performance of music in “real time” – will be given to all students, performing on their own instruments. In due course, some students will be encouraged to invent music and write it on paper – i.e. to compose it. When it is written, other students can perform it, alone or together.
  • “Music camps”. Twice a year, all students spend 2½ days together at a large venue making music together in new ways. In the first camp in 2023, they will be coached by players from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. The camps engender enormous enthusiasm from the children. Parents assist.
  • Parents’ percussion program. In 2023, percussion workshops will be offered to SFL parents and interested parents will be invited to join a special percussion ensemble. This will rehearse and when ready will be presented in community performances via SFL collaboration with community development organisation, Karabi. These will broaden community knowledge of and support for Symphony for Life and assist in recruitment of players, both children and parents.
  • The parents’ ensemble will begin the realisation of the objective to encourage community cohesion and development. Also, parents will have an experience somewhat similar to their children in learning a musical instrument (but easier) and so develop understanding and empathy.

People in the music world will recognise the names of our endorsers in the following list and the Symphony for Life Foundation board members at the end of this document.

These distinguished musicians and leaders in Australian music have endorsed Symphony for Life.

Prof Barry Conyngham AM, composer, former Dean of University of Melbourne Faculty of Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music; formerly Inaugural Vice-Chancellor, Southern Cross University

Brett Dean, composer; conductor; violist, formerly with Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

Claire Edwardes, Music Director, Ensemble Offspring; percussionist

Andrew Ford OAM, broadcaster, The Music Show, ABC RN; composer, author

Elena Kats-Chernin AO, composer, pianist

Gary McPherson, Ormond Professor of Music, former President, International Society for Music Education, former Dean, Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, University of Melbourne

Dene Olding AM, Leader and First Violin, Goldner String Quartet; Concertmaster Emeritus, Sydney Symphony Orchestra

Roland Peelman AM, Artistic Director, Canberra International Music Festival; conductor

Neal Peres da Costa, Associate Dean (Research) and Professor of Historical Performance, Sydney Conservatorium of Music; Leader, Ironwood ensemble; harpsichordist, pianist

Anna Reid, Professor, Head of School and Dean, Sydney Conservatorium of Music, University of Sydney

Kathryn Selby AM, Leader, Kathy Selby and Friends; pianist

Jack Symonds, Artistic Director, Sydney Chamber Opera; conductor, composer.

Lyndon Terracini AM, former Artistic Director, Opera Australia; baritone

Richard Tognetti AO, Artistic Director and Lead Violin, Australian Chamber Orchestra

Brett Weymark OAM, Artistic and Music Director, Sydney Philharmonia Choirs; conductor, singer

Lyn Williams, Director, National Children’s Gondwana Choirs


Sydney Symphony Orchestra has adopted Symphony for Life with supportive collaborations by SSO musicians


Emeritus Professor Di Yerbury
Chair of Governance/Risk Management Committee
Australia’s first female First Assistant Secretary, Australian Public Service, 1973, in charge of National Wage Cases; first female Professor of Management, 1976; founding professor, AGSM (UNSW); CEO, Australia Council for the Arts (1984); first female Vice-Chancellor (Macquarie, 1987-2006); President, Universities Australia, 2004-06; Telstra NSW Business Woman of the Year, 2002; Patron, Australian Youth Orchestra.

Dr Richard Letts AM
Deputy Chairperson
Chair of Program Committee
Founder, Director, The Music Trust; author, editor, publisher. Began professional life as jazz musician. PhD, University of California at Berkeley. Founder, CEO, East Bay Center for Performing Arts, San Francisco, then Director, MacPhail Music Center, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis (largest university school of its type in USA). Returned to Australia as Director, Music Board, Australia Council; then Director, Australian Music Centre. Founder, CEO Music Council of Australia. Patron, National Youth Choir. President, International Music Council, Paris, 2005-9.

Jonathan Abednego
Chair of Fundraising Committee
Head of Business at Wesley Mission, one of Australia’s largest community service organisations. Over 12 years’ senior management experience in banking, FMCG and not-for-profit. In 2013, he founded and remains director of a venture capital and consulting firm helping to accelerate new business ideas. He is classically trained in piano, voice and holds degrees in business, information technology and an MBA. In 2018, he became a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Management.

Marianne Kopeinig
Member of the Governance and Risk Management Committee
Over 20 years of legal experience as a private practitioner, corporate counsel and company secretary for private and ASX listed companies – in commercial, corporate governance, risk management and compliance. Marianne’s experience has been gained in private practice, listed and unlisted companies in a range of sectors: including – IT, research, retail, funds management, community and disability sectors. Marianne was a founding committee member of the Clayton Utz Community Connect Foundation. She has been involved in school music programs as a parent and co-convenor. She has LLB/BJuris, LLM Graduate diploma ACG, FGIA, FCIS.

Mandy Yan
Treasurer and Chair of the Finance and Audit Committee
A manager in Treasury, Macquarie Bank. She is a qualified chartered accountant with over 10 years experience in treasury transaction advisory, financial and management reporting, auditing and due diligence reviews for IPOs, in both local and overseas markets such as UK, China and Singapore.

Professor Gary McPherson
Member of Program Committee
Gary McPherson is the Ormond Professor of Music at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music; in 2021 he stepped down as its Head. Former National President of the Australian Society for Music Education and President of the International Society for Music Education. In 2021, he was the recipient of an Honorary Doctorate from Lund University Sweden. A much published author and editor, 15 of his books have been published by Oxford University Press. His most important research examines the acquisition and development of musical competence, and motivation to engage and participate in music from novice to expert levels.


Karen Carey, Director of Music at MLC Burwood for 25 years. Karen served on the Board of Symphony for Life Foundation from 2016 to 2022 and now continues her support as Ambassador, Symphony for Life

Sally Walker, Woodwind Lecturer, Australian National University, Principal Flautist, Omega Ensemble, Ambassador, Symphony for Life


Chief Executive Officer

Director of Programs
Christopher Bennett
Christopher holds a Bachelor’s in music from the Sydney Conservatorium, and a Master’s in music from Northwestern University in Chicago. In addition to his position with the Symphony for Life Foundation, he runs his own music school, St Leonards Music Academy, and performs regularly around Sydney and Australia as a cellist in solo, chamber, and orchestral settings.