Sangeet Gellhorn

At CCU, we are fortunate to have such a talented and broadly experienced musician directing our Advent music.

Sangeet Gellhorn


An Interview with Sangeet Gellhorn,
Advent Choral Director at CCU

By Marian Heidel

Spend a couple of hours with Sangeet Gellhorn and you will be entertained with a fascinating story of his family history and his own wide-ranging life journey. Born in London in 1945, he grew up surrounded by music. His father was Peter Gellhorn, a fine pianist (a child prodigy!) and opera conductor, who fled to England, a German-Jewish refugee from Hitler’s regime. (Did you know that the British had an internment camp on the Isle of Man, for “enemy aliens” from Germany, and Maestro Gellhorn was one of them? He was released only because Ralph Vaughn Williams, amongst others, wrote a letter to the government, vouching for him.) Sangeet’s English mother, Olive Layton, also had a family with a strong musical tradition. So any family gathering meant music making of some sort. Sangeet says his family would gather around the piano Sunday mornings to sing, rather than go to church, and at Christmas the whole extended family would gather to sing through the choruses of the Messiah or the Mass in B Minor, as well as traditional carols.

Early on he learned to play both piano and flute.  From his parents and their involvement in the music world, he had an early introduction to Mozart and 19th Century Opera, the whole classical and romantic piano repertoire, and later on a great deal of contemporary choral music.

He attended Westminster School (‘A’ level in Math & Physics), and sang in the school choirs at Westminster Abbey, which was the school chapel. As a teenager he encountered the avant-garde and became involved with contemporary and electronic music.  After a year in a music school in Berlin, he went on to graduate from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (the equivalent of an American BA)  & won the School Piano Prize in London. He studied in Darmstadt and in 1972 he received his masters degree in Music Composition from York University, England.

He has held teaching positions in music, music theory, composition, piano, flute and Electronic Music, at Goldsmith’s College, and City University, London, and Falmouth Art School in Cornwall, and York University, England.  I can’t begin to cover all his performances in piano and flute, his compositions, nor detail his professional work (See me, if you want to read his resume!) or other activities.

I asked Sangeet how he got his name (originally Martin Oliver). 1972 – 1985 was a time of spiritual exploration, which led him in 1974 to India, where, at the Shree Rajneesh Ashram in Poona, he learned meditation and the practice of music as a spiritual discipline. On arrival there he became a disciple of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (now known as Osho) who gave him the name Swami (Master) Anand (bliss) Sangeet (music).  He returned to England in 1981, lived for a year in a commune there, then in 1982 moved to America and a commune in Oregon, where he utilized civil engineering and legal research skills! These experiences profoundly affected Sangeet and it shows in his gentleness, his spirituality, and integrating music and the spiritual experience.  As you will see, he is able to move in the interfaith world with sincerity and appreciation, because he sees that music and the spiritual merge, and are common to all faiths and cultures.

Between 1985 and 1993 he spent time in Boulder, Colorado and San Diego, CA, using his musical talents in performance and teaching..  He then moved to Hawaii and discovered it was for him! He has become an active part of the Honolulu music world, teaching flute, piano and voice, and his first position as a choir conductor was at the Unitarian Church (2001-2007).  He has been active as director of Interfaith Choirs at the Nu’uanu Annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Eve Services and those at the Calvary-by-the-Sea Lutheran Church.  He is the director of High Holy Days choir at Temple Emanu-El, and was Chancel and Oratorio Choir director at Central Union Church from 2009-2014.

He was pianist for the Honolulu Chorale from 2007- 2010, and active in planning the Oahu ACDA Sacred Music Festivals and was accompanist one year. He was pianist for the Honolulu Chorale from 2007- 2010, and active in planning the Oahu ACDA Sacred Music Festivals and was accompanist one year.  He played flute for the Dances of Universal Peace for many years, Mevlevi Sufi zikrs, as well as Indian Classical, Turkish and Middle Eastern music at various local events, and has performed at classical chamber music concerts.

We are fortunate to have such a talented and broadly experienced musician directing our Advent music.  Mahalo, Sangeet.