You Need One Piece Set Entirely to Music
By Joshua Jay - Wednesday, August 24, 2022
You need one piece set entirely to music
Okay, “need” is probably too strong a directive. But I believe a major part of growth as a performer is to develop a piece you can do entirely to music. You learn all sorts of lessons about staging a magic trick when you don’t have the crutch of language to fall back on. For me, one of these music pieces has been “Cylinder and Coins.”
There are three distinct advantages in having a piece you can do entirely to music.
You immediately have a piece you can do onstage, in a more theatrical environment. My observation is that many close-up performers do great work, but if you put them onstage or on television or in a formal setting, their work suffers because it relies heavily on everyone being in a relaxed, informal environment. This piece can close a show because it’s theatrically different to any talking piece you do.
You can play internationally. This has come in handy multiple times, but don’t ignore this facet just because you aren’t regularly performing abroad. In many instances I’ve performed where I live, in New York City, for companies holding events in which not everyone speaks the same language. Also, with the rise of online performing, anyone, anywhere, can perform for anywhere else.
You get to think about magic in an entirely new way.
It’s this last point I wish to expand on here, in this post.
When you design a piece for music, you have to communicate everything you wish to put across without speaking a word. There are no rules, of course, so you have the luxury of introducing the piece before you begin, or setting it up however you like with a preamble. Maybe this is a trick you learned from your teacher. Maybe this is an original piece you created. Maybe this is the trick you performed for the President last year. Whatever you wish to share, you can still communicate this information. But the trick itself will be speaking for itself.
This means we have to think about the piece in terms of mood, and the music we choose has to reflect this choice. I’ve both tailored magic to an existing piece of music, and I’ve had music commissioned around a piece of magic. Both have their advantages, but my advice is to start with an existing piece of music you like (copyright free means you’ll be able to use it on TV and in public spaces) and customize the trick around the beats of music.
To me, music provides great opportunities to accent the magic. In other words, there are beats and moments in my “Cylinder and Coins” routine wherein the coins vanish in tandem with a sound in the music. This is aesthetically a nice touch.
When you’re choosing what magic to put to music, I don’t think there are any rules. It’s helpful if the magic has a visual element to it—this is another reason I felt “Cylinder and Coins” was a great choice for a music routine. It also helps if the plot of the trick takes a little time to develop. In other words, at first glance “Cylinder and Coins” is about coins that disappear. But we eventually discover that these coins are reappearing in the place least expected. By having a plot that is somewhat complex and unfolding as the trick progresses, the audience can focus entirely on what’s transpiring.
The other thing to take into account when choosing a piece to put to music is whether words benefit the trick. In “Cylinder and Coins,” in all versions I’ve seen of the trick, the magician’s dialogue is always a narration of what’s happening. “Here I have a cylinder. Here I have four coins. I’m going to place the coin in my hand and…”
If the only thing the magician is saying is a narration of their own actions, it’s possible that the trick can benefit from the stillness of a music routine. It might gain some clarity and beauty when it isn’t muddied with extraneous scripting.
I happen to think “Cylinder and Coins” makes an ideal piece to music. But of course, what I hope you take from this blog is the challenge to assemble any trick that you can perform without speaking, to musical accompaniment.
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