Playing By Ear

“Your work is not at a level where I can offer criticism.”

Albert Goshman made the comment to a young Irish magician as the young man was driving Goshman to the airport. The two had appeared on the same bill at an Irish convention and the young man was seeking advice from the master as to how he could improve his act.

When word spread of Goshman’s response, many magicians were taken aback by the curt nature of his comment. “How arrogant,” they chimed.

For those who take their work seriously, however, and have achieved some measure of success, it is difficult to dispense advice because they understand how challenging it is to perform magic.

Great magicians must fashion words like a playwright, possess the digital dexterity of a concert pianist, move with the grace of a dancer, harness the quick wit of an improvisational comedian, tap the emotional depth of an actor and present the bravura of an opera singer. Not many can. It takes years of training and development.

Second, there are few – if any – academies or formal training grounds for magicians. Even the books that purport to be “courses,” have no pedagogical underpinnings. Most are just collections of tricks assembled because they can be advertised as being “easy to master.” They do both the subject and their audience a disservice.

Now, more than ever, most interested in magic play by ear:  they see a trick on television or on the Internet and they mimic it. The result is they have ‘moves’ but little technique. Without technique, however, there is little one can criticize. So, until there is a more formal program that provides a technical grounding in all aspects of performing magic, the craft will stumble on. Perhaps the best advice one can give in the interim are the words Dai Vernon scrawled on Ed Marlo’s annotations of his annotations of The Expert at the Card Table: “Keep striving, Ed.”