I often read on online forums the usual advice to beginning magicians to start their study with the classics.
I beg to disagree with this advice. I believe the better course to take is to study first the fundamentals from modern masters.
While it’s true that the classics of magic contain a treasure trove of fundamentals, the fundamentals need not be found exclusively in the classics.
Let me explain. If a student wants to learn up-to-date, cutting-edge fundamentals you don’t need to go to the classics FIRST (he can go there later). In the same manner, if one just wants to learn to sing a Ricky Martin song, he doesn’t need to learn a symphony in G minor by Beethoven. Or if he wants to learn to dance the latest disco steps, he doesn’t have to go to CCP to learn ballet.
While the fundamentals found in classic resources could give a student of magic a wider perspective and deeper understanding of our art, I believe that going there first is not the best learning strategy to adopt.
Modern masters of the art have refined and innovated some classic handling of sleights. Thus, by and large, today’s masters have rendered the old ways of doing things crude for the modern, more sophisticated audiences.
Take for example the Double Lift. If a student learned it from Royal Road of Magic or from Bruce Elliot’s the Classic Secrets of Magic, he would be doing it “wrongly” by today’s performance standards. The same thing with the Top Change. If he learned it the way Blackstone did it on stage during his time, the student magician would get by on platform performances but not really in street magic situation or table-hopping gigs.
While any Annemann resource may yield many classic handling of Mentalism effects and dodges, again many handling have been refined by modern masters like Osterlind or Cassidy. Take billet switches, for example. There are many billet switches in Anemmann’s texts that still work today, but there are some that are cruder and less effective compared to the innovative peek works of Busch or center tears of Osterlind, Doc Hilford and lately of Ran Pink (Think Pink is a good example of modern, up-to-date, cutting edge center tear/peek).
So my advice? Start with fundamentals from modern resources. Once a student in magic has sank his teeth into these references and would like to sink them deeper, then he may want to go back in time—starting from Vernon and traveling farther back—and soak up all the knowledge he can from the classics.