May-June 2014 | THE POET PUGILIST

THE POET PUGILIST
Hal Chernoff

ARTISTICALLY SPEAKING

THE POET PUGILIST

When veteran boxing trainer Hal Chernoff isn't molding the youth of Delmarva at his Main St. Gym, he's composing some beautiful music — straight from the heart

Written By: Nick Brandi | Photographer: Grant L. Gursky

On a typical day, Hal Chernoff can be found building both muscles and character as the program director of the Main St. Gym in Salisbury. But this is one tough guy with a definite tender side, because later on, after everyone is gone and the day’s blood, sweat and tears have melted like fading echoes into the shadowy crevices of the deserted gym, “Coach Hal” undergoes a dramatic metamorphosis.

“I discovered my affinity for poetry back in the sixth grade,” shared Chernoff, who gained fame as the longtime manager/trainer of former NABF middleweight champion boxer Fernando Guerrero (26-2-0) and still trains his older brother, Alex Guerrero (10-0-1), a top-5 U.S. cruiserweight. “I seemed to have an aptitude for meter and rhyme, so I used to write poems just for fun. Sometimes, my friends at school would task me to write a poem for them on a particular subject — usually something funny — and I would do it, kind of on demand. It was a good challenge for me, and my classmates got a kick out of it.”

Though he began taking piano lessons in the fourth grade, Chernoff eventually switched to the organ at age 15, following a Billy Preston concert he’d attended. “Hearing what Billy could do with that organ was enough to persuade me to switch,” he recalled as if yesterday.

Chernoff got good enough that he began playing gigs for his hometown folks in Upstate New York. But it wasn’t until about 12 years ago — decades after he’d relocated to the Eastern Shore — that he decided it was time to switch his instrument focus once again.

“I had spent so many years exploring and evolving my poetic side,” explained Chernoff, who recently broadened the horizons of his boxing stable by forming an affiliation with former super-middleweight champion boxer Dave Tiberi’s TNT Video, Multimedia and Television Productions in Delaware. “I felt it was time to give songwriting a try, so I began fooling around with the guitar. Sadly, I took it up too late in life to ever be as good a player as I would like to be, but I 
definitely feel it facilitates my efforts as a songwriter.”

To date, Chernoff has written close to 40 complete songs and has partially completed over 100 others. But the poet-pugilist is also a perfectionist, which is why he was quick to sign up for Jen and Scott Smith’s Wood and Stone Songwriting Retreat when he’d heard they were holding another one in June. The event’s second outting in Crisfield has once again attracted aspiring songwriters from all over the U.S., not only for the serene setting, complete meals and lodging it promises but especially because of the talent that will be on hand to coach and instruct the attendees. The four-day retreat will feature celebrated industry veterans Dan Navarro, Wyatt Easterling and Phil Madeira, who among them have seen their songs performed and recorded by such stars as Alison Krauss, Garth Brooks, Emmylou Harris, Toby Keith, Dierks Bentley, Amy Grant, Pat Benatar, Dionne Warwick, The Temptations and The Bangles.

“I’m extremely eager to get feedback from these pros about my songs,” shared Chernoff, “but I also want to learn more about their individual processes and about the industry in general.

“Ultimately, though,” he continued, “it’s really about capitalizing on the opportunity to spend some time with creative, likeminded people in a peaceful, beautiful setting and just wait for the inspiration to roll in.”

As for the disparate hemispheres of Chernoff’s world, there are, he says, some things they have in common.

“To succeed at any challenging, competitive endeavor you must be able to focus and lock out all distractions. There is also at a certain level something of a performance aspect to both. But most important is that whether it’s boxing or the music 
industry, someday you’re going to be tested, and when that day comes, you must demonstrate the ability to get up and keep trying even after you’ve been knocked down.”


 


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