Next profile | Previous
profile | May/June Contents
| Gazette home
His Sail Near Over, Chanteyman Still Enjoys Music of
Hornstein D'67 was a pediatric dentist who delighted in gathering with
friends to sing sea chanteys -- work songs made popular aboard 19th-century
sailing ships, and later on land, along railroads and in lumber camps.
At festivals the Ancient Mariners Chanteymen brought audiences to laughter
and tears with their salty tunes and mournful ballads.
Today Hornstein is dying. In the advanced stages of
a degenerative muscular condition known as ALS, or Lou Gehrig's Disease,
Hornstein can stir only his eyes, and they, too, are getting weaker. But
even as his muscles have failed him, forcing him to give up his dental
practice, and then his singing, Hornstein finds that he has much to teach
others about living.
The most dramatic example comes from the publication
last year of his book, Favorite Sea Songs of the Ancient Mariners Chanteymen,
which he completed using only his right eye. Hornstein was contacted by
e-mail in February at his Guilford, Conn., home and asked if he would
answer a few questions about his condition and his passionate hobby. His
enthusiastic response came -- unexpectedly -- seven days later: "Great!
Let's do it."
It is computer technology -- and Hornstein's remarkable
will -- that make communication still possible. First he peers into an
eyepiece which displays a chart of keyboard characters and tracks the
movement of his right pupil. As he focuses on each letter, it appears
on his computer screen. At Hornstein's optical command, a synthesizer
converts the text into a digitized voice. Not long ago, he could speak,
or type, at a rate of one character per second, but his pace is slower
Hornstein, who appeared with other ALS patients on a
recent episode of 60 Minutes, contemplated suicide several years
ago. What stopped him was the memory of a man he knew while he was enrolled
at Penn's School of Dental Medicine -- and working at the Penn Diner at
40th and Spruce. "The owner, Jimmy, was a remarkable fellow,"
Hornstein recalls. "He was always in a good mood and always had something
positive to say. He was a natural motivator. Seeing this style really
made me curious, so one day I went up to Jimmy and asked him, 'How do
you do it?'
"Jimmy made me see that life is all about choices,"
Hornstein writes. "When you cut away all the junk, every situation
is a choice. You choose how you react to situations." Although Hornstein
lost touch with Jimmy after he left Penn, he remembered his philosophy.
In 1992, Hornstein was diagnosed with ALS and given
two to three years to live. "I knew very well that my remaining time
on earth would be accompanied by the most horrible physical changes I
could imagine," he says. "One day, when I still could drive
and no one was home, I went into the barn, locked all the doors, and searched
my soul, prior to starting my car engine. Jimmy's voice said to me, 'You
have two choices. You can choose to live, or you can choose to die. If
I had half your ability and determination, I'd choose to live. This could
be the greatest adventure of your life!'
"I decided, since Hornsteins are not quitters,
not to turn the key. I have never regretted that decision for one minute.
And I can share two things I've learned with everyone today. First, choose
to live life fully!! And second, attitude, after all, is everything."
When he became unable to drive and to walk, to sing
and to play the fife and concertina with the Chanteymen, Hornstein wrote
his book, relying on his two nurses to wheel him into libraries for research.
The product is a conversational collection of musical scores, lyrics (including
some written by him), and historical detail about chanteys. About 400
books had been sold as of February, recovering two-thirds of his $12,000
investment. Profits will go to ALS research.
According to Hornstein, the earliest reference to nautical
"chanteying as we know it today" appeared in 1493, when a Dominican
friar named Felix Fabri, traveling on a Venetian galley, wrote of "mariners
who sing when work is going on -- [There is] a concert between one who
sings out orders and the laborers who sing in response." But it was
in the last hundred years of sail, from 1820 to 1920, that the musical
The word's origins remain in dispute. Some believe it
comes from the English chant, or from the French chantez,
which means sing. Others believe it derived from the crudely-built shanties
of American work camps, occupied -- as Hornstein writes in his book --
by "hard working, drinking, nomadic men who sang all day to ease
their burden of work." Regardless of the etymology, chanteys typically
took the form of short, often improvised, solo passages called out by
a lead singer, or chanteyman, followed with a chorus sung by the rest
of the sailing crew. Varying in tempo and rhythm, the songs were chosen
based on the work that had to be done. They served both to motivate sailors
and coordinate their movements. Today, they inspire Hornstein to go on
with the task of living.
Hornstein's favorite chantey, he says, is "Cape
Cod Girls," a ditty sung while raising anchors and pumping water
out of ships. "The lyrics are woven around the many (humorous) uses
for codfish parts" and were varied to poke fun at the hometowns of
different crew members, he explains. A modified version was also heard
on British ships. For example:
Liverpool gals ain't got no combs,
They comb their hair with kipper back bones ...
The Chanteymen still practice at Hornstein's home every
Thursday night while he arranges their music. Even with his head held
up by a cervical collar, and his every breath completed by a respirator,
he reports, "I can write the lead and harmony parts via computer,
make tapes of the computer playing each part, then give everyone their
tape. It ain't like playing and singing, but at least I'm still involved
with my friends."
Hornstein also finds much to live for in his "wonderful
nurses and spectacular children (a 27-year-old son, Daniel, and a daughter,
Robin, who is a college senior)." Daniel, he notes, is sailing around
the world on a three-masted square-rigged ship, visiting classrooms at
various ports to teach students about the environment. Back on land, Hornstein
continues to teach his own lessons, by encouraging everyone to appreciate
the music around them.
To order a book, write to Hornstein at 165 Sperry Drive, Guilford, CT
06437. The price is $25.00, $35.00 to include a musical CD of the Chanteymen.
Next profile | Previous
profile | May/June Contents
| Gazette home
Copyright 1999 The
Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 5/5/99