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.
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.
Imagine going into your local McDonald’s. A bow-tied maître d’ with a paper hat leads you to a white-clothed table where you sit down and are given menus written in Italian on parchment paper. You order (as best you can) burgers, which come served in Chinese rice bowls. You order some wine; you are told to go to a service counter to order it where it is served in a polystyrene cup with a straw. You finish your meal with strawberry ice cream served in a cheap plastic tub. During the meal they are playing loud Mexican music, and the staff are wearing 50s style American outfits while sporting curly fake moustaches and tattoos, and talking with upperclass British accents. To say the least one would find this experience disconcerting!
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.
A common concern of amateur magicians is how to present magic effectively to friends and family. This includes work colleagues and anyone else with whom one comes into regular contact. On the surface it may seem the easiest audience to do magic for, but in fact it is the hardest when it comes to patter and presentation. People who know one’s usual vocabulary, interests, body language and ways of expressing oneself can easily smell a rat the moment one veers away from this ‘normal self’ into the realms of magician’s patter and unusual actions; all of a sudden making more or less eye contact than normal or bringing up subjects they know you have no real interest in.
Marshall McLuhan famously stated, ‘The medium is the message’. When people first saw motion pictures they would have marvelled as much at the medium of film as the content of the movies. Whole societies have been shaped – how we work, travel, and relax – by technological media such as cars, television, and internet; it’s not what we look at but how we look at it that is McLuhan’s message. Magicians now learn from YouTube and video downloads rather than books, and this affects how they learn magic, what they learn, and how they understand it. Right-handed magicians are learning card moves left-handed (and vice versa) from YouTube, because they aren’t aware that the online instructor’s handedness is different from theirs, or they’ve been told it doesn’t matter (it does).