Many years ago, I watched a short video clip of Slydini performing magic with paper ball napkins.
As usual, Slydini was elegant. The sleights, misdirection, and the overall flow of the routine were a joy to behold. His graceful fingers and hands moved like ballet dancers. They wielded magic on the paper balls, making them jump invisibly into a bottomless cardboard box across the table. He performed the routine to a piano rendition of Yesterday.
Two reasons I still remember that performance.
One, Slydini did it beautifully. If you are like me, a Pinoy magician who has seen a fair share of mediocre and bad magic, you will also remember for a long time the haunting beauty of Slydini’s magic.
Two, before starting the performance, Slydini cued the orchestra conductor by saying, “Music, maestro.”
I don’t know the origin of the phrase, as I have not researched it yet. I’ve always thought, though, that it dates back to the days of the opera. In those days, the singer would cue the conductor to get the orchestra to start playing by saying, “Music, maestro.”
Today, however, the phrase has become a cliche, notwithstanding the fact that Slydini used it, and that some prominent performers still continue using it. If Abracadabra has become a well worn-out magic word to produce wonder, then “Music, maestro” has equally become a worn-out magic phrase to produce music.
Surprisingly, “Music, maestro” still counts a number of users among performers including Filipino magicians. If you have been performing long enough, you probably have used the phrase a number of times also, either for comedic effect or for actually cuing the music. Despite its triteness, the phrase is convenient to use especially in large venues where the control booth of the music spinner is a good distance from the stage.
Convenient but not elegant. In today’s high-tech world of the performing arts, electronic wizardry like the Virtual Soundman allows performers to remotely control music. With the use of this modern gadgetry, the audience will be unaware how the music is cued, because the performer doesn’t need to say anymore the magic word, “Music, maestro.”
When we staged Magic ‘To (The Next Level), we didn’t have the Virtual Soundman or a similar equipment. To be honest with you, we didn’t have the budget to acquire one. So we did some cheating to produce the same precision music cuing.
We tweaked the script so that the performers cued the musical director not with a remote control but with his movements and positions on stage. In the case of the talking acts, the performer asked for music using verbal cues that did not contain phrases like, “Music, maestro”, “Maestro?”, “Music, please”, “Give me a salsa/tango/cha-cha music, please”, “Play Misty for Me,” and the like.
The non-music suggestive verbal cues we used were “Ladies and gentlemen, this is a brand-new illusion…”, “Girls, are you ready?”, or “Pull the curtain down!” We thought the phrases were subtle enough. And they worked beautifully. Nobody knew in the audience that we cued our music with a method so primitive it must have dated back to the early days of theater.
So unless you have the budget to buy yourself a sophisticated equipment like the Virtual Soundman, in your workaday magic life, practice with your assistant cuing the music manually via subtle verbal signals. Or better, use movement signals, which are, to my mind, more subtle than phrases. Say, when you hold the dove pan, your assistant takes that as signal to start music number one, and when you hold the rabbit, as signal to start music number two, and so on.
There will be miscues during your practice sessions, but persevere. When you get your cuing down pat, your show will have a touch of elegance and professionalism even though your venue is only the birthday party circuit in the Philippines.