You would think that there aren’t many safer bets in life than buying Fortnum & Mason tea for relatives at Christmas. I sent some via airmail to my uncle in Greece in early December. When it arrived (mid-January) he sent a note saying ‘I will think of Prince George every time I drink the Christening Tea’. I wonder how many other customers made the same mistake as they rushed around looking for gifts. The teller probably thought ‘Here comes another one…’ while saluting me in the customary Fortnum’s manner and relieving me of a tenner for a box of teabags. I believe this is called KYC (know your customer). The customer may still be king in Fortnum’s, but the king has no clothes on.
What we study in private is only, say, 50% of the overall lesson or learning of magic, but it is of course the basis for the other 50% (what we learn in performance) and deserves close analysis. Probably the best way to learn magic is via a triangulation between books – which ideally means illustrated textbooks – videos, and a teacher/mentor.
We all know the advantages of visual media such as video; or we think we do. However, when we examine more closely, it turns out that all is not what it seems. This is due to the mechanics of magic and the way it should be taught. Many magic techniques have key actions or moments. These key moments are like bullet points and, mechanically speaking, are the fundamental actions around which the whole manoeuvre (sometimes literally) pivots. The Erd—- Change for example (in the way it is done nowadays) can be broken down into seven or eight key actions. The fluid movements between the key moments are important too, but without those key moments made clear, the in-between bits are irrelevant.
Problems are often created out of thin air by failing to see the reality of a situation or concept. One imagines that a certain situation pertains or has changed due to some unfamiliar but actually unconnected factor, when in reality nothing has changed. The Double Un—–t is always the same, regardless of whether one is c—ing cards from top to bottom or from middle to top. The number of cards in the top section – one or 25 – is an immaterial factor. When those cards are moved to the bottom, the card below them comes to the top. One is automatically a byproduct of the other. The number of cuts is also irrelevant; you could have simply made a single, straight cut.
There are many parallels between magic and other fields such as music or even cookery. For example you can think of a card trick as a recipe and a sleight as an ingredient in that recipe. If the trick is ‘Twisting the Aces’ then the integral ingredient is of course the E—— Count. There are almost as many ways of executing the EC as there are magicians attempting to do it. By that I mean that my own idiosyncratic handling will be different from yours; and this is without those aspects that are technically and quantifiably different.
One of the most desired card sleights among dabblers is the Diagonal P— Shift (DPS), despite the fact that it is one of the least used card sleights. If this sounds contradictory, it isn’t: popularity is unrelated to functionality. Of course it’s possible that people don’t use the DPS because it’s difficult, but there are many difficult moves that magicians use all the time. The main reason is that the concept behind it is not particularly useful.
The difference between something seen and something reasoned or thought about is obvious. I can show you, say, two apples and three bananas (five fruits in total) or alternatively ask you to think of ‘2a + 3b = 5f’. One is perception (or a mixture of perception and thought) and the other, purely thought. In magic, however, the differences between visual magic and cerebral – tricks seen and those created in the mind – are not immediately clear, mainly because most tricks are a mixture of the two.
As soon as you learn more than one piece of magic, the question arises as to what order to do the tricks in. Of course with two tricks it isn’t hard; you just do whichever trick feels right, first. However, as you develop a repertoire over the months and years this approach to routining – doing tricks in whichever order feels right – remains the core approach. Other factors such as choreography and logistics become more significant the more one develops magically, and the professional must be acutely aware of peaks and troughs of impact; but the artistic and intuitive side of the equation remains strongly significant.
Rules are like inflatable armbands when a child is learning to swim: once you can swim the armbands become a hindrance. Once we start to become competent at magic we develop an intuitive sense of when to do certain things and when not to; continuing to think rigidly in terms of ‘rule #7 says such and such’ will hinder us. But when we are starting out our knowledge is less sophisticated and benefits from general guidance in the form of simple rules. The truth of many of these rules still resonates for years to come.
The difference between the casual card-trick doer watching YouTube and the amateur or professional magician, is that the latter always uses correct grips and positions with the cards and props, as well as purposeful choreography, patter, presentation and misdirection. The former simply muddles through using more or less homemade handling. In every field there are right and wrong ways, whether it’s golf swings, piano chord-changes or chess openings. The casual hobbyist is either unaware of their ignorance (understandable particularly when a youngster) or willfully ignorant through insufficient interest to do things properly. No harm is done if people just want to whack a ball, play Scott Joplin badly, or bluff their way through a chess game or card trick.