Mr. Peabody Says:
Like the great Tony Slydini, we are trying to fool people, but we have to be very careful not to fool ourselves. We can’t be like the man in the chair who does not have a clue as to what is really happening, but like the audience who sees what is really happening. We have to learn to use only our ears to judge whether or not we are getting the sound we want.
Then we have to experiment endlessly to see if there is a better way to do it – a way that is easier, more effortless, more economical in terms of movement. But we have to be sure that our role is that of Slydini. We know that we are cheating. Our audience is “our man in the chair”. They are never supposed to see or hear how we do it, even after we show them. That’s the true magic.
This is how we pianists get it done. We do one thing, but we make people think we are doing something else. Everything about the piano is a cheat, an illusion, a trick. And this is because we only need to do two things: We need to make it look easy, and we need the sound to be wonderful. How we do it does not matter, and that’s why some pianists wave their hands around and make strange faces. Others barely move. Some of the people who barely move are inexpressive and quite boring, but there are a few who barely move who always got thunderous applause.
Slydini was known as the best of the guys who did “small magic”, and this is one of the most impressive things I’ve seen. Other magicians were in awe of him and studied with him whenever possible. He was the “magician’s magician”. Others were more famous with the public, but none more than Tony with fellow illusionists. This is how I try to play. I don’t want to impress with big magic, the virtuoso pieces that are loud, fast and have a million notes. I want to nail the small stuff. It’s always the small stuff that shows the true masters of the craft.
The greatest “magic” you can create at the piano is to cheat, to create illusions, then show people in slow motion how you did it, but then play full speed so that they STILL can’t catch the tricks, because you do it so deftly that it can’t be seen or heard.
As you watch Slydini you know exactly what he is doing. He shows everybody. Everyone in the audience sees it, and from that angle we see it too. But we know that from the angle of the man watching him do the trick, it’s all invisible. It’s a trick, yet if you are sitting in that chair, even if he shows you what he’s doing, you will still never see it. That’s the magic, the “small magic”. We know the trick. He shows us. He is so elegant, so smooth, so effortless, and only using paper!
Big magic is sawing a lady in half, or doing any number of impressive stage tricks that are illusions. But for those illusions normally we never get to find out how the magicians pull them off, and the often necessitate a lot of expensive props, assistants and of course elaborate tricks. As I watch this elaborate illusions I wonder how impressive they would be if we knew how they are done, and wouldn’t it be ruined afterward?
It’s one thing to be tricked. It is something very different to be shown exactly how something is done and still not be able to see it. In some cases “sleight of hand” artists like Tony Slydini show us exactly what they are doing, in slow motion, then repeat the tricks at full speed and it’s still impossible to see it. I can watch these tricks again and again, because for me it’s not about the trick. It’s about the masterful way it is done.
Which is more impressive?
For me “small magic” is more impressive because it does not depend on props. It’s hand speed, misdirection and presentation. It’s amazingly impressive to me to see what a magician is doing and how he is doing it and yet still not be able to see it happen. Done in this way it is also very honest. There are no secrets, no tricks. It’s just a matter of doing something small better than anyone else. It’s all about quality. It’s so honest. And this is what I try to do as a player, and as a teacher. Slydini for this reason is a kind of mentor.