One of the first questions asked of a magician when given an opportunity is how did you learn to perform magic? Since I have been studying magic since I have been old enough to read, my education has been through a variety of sources from the first magic sets I owned to recent DVDs.
Of all the formats and mediums I have studied through the years, I think the best source of my education was books.
Magic is one of the few arts where a student traditionally had to find his or her own way through books, tricks and self-study. Few teachers exist to really promote the art so most magicians like myself are self-taught. There are a few courses in magic that have helped hone performers such as the Chavez School of Magic, but most performers have not studied there.
My first education was through a magic set that was a cardboard premium ordered from a cereal box when I was 5 years old. I no longer have that set as it was not the sturdiest, but it definitely gave me an unending hunger for more.
Christmas was the next magic set with even more effects and gradually over the next few years, my birthdays and Christmases always seemed to include at least one or two magic tricks and at least one set.
Soon my life was highlighted by magic. We took a vacation to Atlantic City with my parents and grandparents a few summers later. In the window of a store on the boardwalk was a Bill Bixby Magician Magic Set. I was instantly drawn to it and begged my folks to allow me to use my allowance to purchase it. They reluctantly allowed me to do so, much to my joy.
I also found a color changing scarf which the clerk taught me. That night there was a hurricane that hit Atlantic City and trapped us in the lobby, but I was more concerned with learning how to perform these new effects. Soon I was performing them for the motel owners as the wind and rain swirled around the motel.
As I got older though, I discovered that books contained the most interesting effects. After a while the magic sets were replaced with library book checkouts. I probably checked out every magic book in Panther Valley repeatedly throughout my schooling just to read and reread and develop ideas.
Books provided such a wide variety of effects and understanding of the principles of magic, but they had their own traps. Many of the older books described methods, but were light on techniques and presentation, which was a double-edged sword.
On the one hand the lack of finished presentations encouraged one to be more creative and understanding of the total effect, but on the other hand, many older books carefully hid pertinent information in writing that was either poor, but more likely, purposely confusing to make it more difficult to learn the effects.
The result was that determination and experimentation by the student was necessary to figure out what the author was really doing.
I began to devour magic books from my teens on through adulthood. There were so many effects and so many different types and styles of magic one could learn as well as history.
I was introduced to names, some of whom I would later meet, who educated me mostly on cards and close-up magic through the pages of those tomes. Names like Brother John Hamman, Alexander Elmsley, Ed Marlo and Harry Lorayne. Most likely those not familiar with magic recognize none of these people save the latter.
Lorayne, who still lives in New York, was not only an excellent card magician who published a journal of magic for close to 20 years as well as many books, but he was also known as a memory expert. If you purchased any books on memory, memory systems or such, it was probably penned by Harry Lorayne.
I was fortunate to meet Lorayne a few times at a magic convention called Tannen's Magic Jubilee in the Catskills. He was friendly, knowledgeable and approachable.
The highlight of our meeting for me was lending him my deck of cards and watching as he made the deck sing like a great maestro as he instructed us on his newest moves and how to properly perform them.
As video tapes, and later DVDs, became more commonplace, the realm of magic instruction moved into that medium. One was able to bring these teachers into your own living room and watch them perform and teach magic.
This had its advantages and drawbacks. The advantage was having a magical teacher, but the drawback of solely using this form is that one tends to not put themselves into the presentation; instead they become a cardboard cutout of the teacher adopting mannerisms and style that is not their own. Books made you develop your own style as it is hard to translate style into a written book.
The final jump is YouTube and other streaming video on the Internet. This is where magic instruction and unfortunately exposure has moved in the modern age.
To me, this is a blessing and a curse. It's a blessing because now if you are curious about how a trick looks when it is performed, you can easily find an example online. It is a curse because it has led to a rash of magic exposure yet again in that some would-be magicians, in their quest to show how cool they are, violate the first rule of magic which is to keep secrets. That is a shame, but a subject for another day.
In the end, it is easier to learn magic today than it ever was before, thanks to the information age. Learn a trick for National Magic Week starting tomorrow.
Til next time …