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The Musical Magic of Shin Lim

The Musical Magic of Shin Lim

By Paulo Camacho

Do you believe in magic?

It’s a silly question. Or it’s a question that can be interpreted in many ways, depending on your point of view. Because, for the most part, we all understand that “magic” in the traditional sense — spells, tricks, and potions — doesn’t exist. But we also know that sense of wonder and excitement that we experience, in one way or another, every day of our lives. Magicians have the power to give us that kind of experience. When they perform illusions that astound and amaze, we cannot help but have that specific, exhilarating thought: “WHOA! How did they DO that?!”

Music can give us that experience, whether we realize it or not. It can be listening to a piece of music for the 1000th time, and feeling the same thrill as if it was listening to it for the first time; it could be watching an opera, a musical, or even a theme park attraction, and the music that takes us away from our mundane, everyday lives; it could be a song, a sonata, or a composition that makes you feel something — happiness, sadness, fascination, anger — that you otherwise wouldn’t feel at the time.

Leave it to a former pianist-turned-master illusionist to combine the two in perfect harmony.

Shin Lim is quite possibly the greatest sleight-of-hand artist in the world today. Born in Canada in 1992, and raised in Singapore from the age of three, Lim grew up studying music — mainly, to eventually become a concert pianist. He even posted videos of his skill on YouTube, back when he was still in high school. He eventually received a scholarship in music from Lee University.

While pursuing a career in music, he picked up a second love — magic and illusions. He saw his first card trick from his eldest brother at the age of 16, and his drive and passion to learn magic, from then on, was relentless. So much so, that he won major youth magic awards, including the World Teen Close-Up Magic Championship in 2010.

Lim was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome during his freshman year of college — a condition that, Lim admits, urged him to pursue a career in magic. It turned out that doctors convinced him to lay off of piano for an entire year, and that card magic was “easier on the fingers.” It was a decision that has paid off, as he went on to become Fédération Internationale des Sociétés Magiques (FISM) Card Magic World Champion in 2015.

You might already be familiar with his work from his three appearances thus far on “America’s Got Talent” (as of August 14, 2018) where he’s amazed the judges and audiences alike with his brilliant artistry and amazing sleight of hand skills:

His musical background has a major influence on his stage act — an act that he conceived of and choreographed entirely on his own — and it shows. Unlike many magicians of today, Lim chooses not to speak in his routines, and lets the music drive his performance. It is reminiscent of magic acts like David Copperfield, who rarely spoke when performing many of his illusions. Watch this performance from a 2015 episode of Penn & Teller’s “Fool Us,” to give yourself a better understanding of this:

He even says it in the video, himself:

I think all the years of performing piano and learning music theory really influenced my magic, in a sense that I naturally was able to synchronize my magic to the music. So, every beat, every movement, is justified through the music. By not speaking during my act, it almost gives a more mysterious look.

You can see, and almost feel, how the music he performs to drives the performance into another level of drama and wonder. The music is the soundtrack to his act, helping tell the story to every trick he performs. In particular, can you feel the tension pick up at 2:12, where the bellowing brass arrives with a thud, through the wondrous glockenspiel melody? It’s a driving instrumental cue, that something is about to happen. This is further established when the strings come skipping in soon after — quickly building the tension, as smoke rises from the table, to its ultimate crescendo: smoke emerges from Lim’s mouth, revealing the volunteer’s card. It’s a beautiful use of music to enhance the viewer’s experience.

Then, take Shin Lim’s featured audition for “America’s Got Talent.” The editors at NBC already do a wonderful job in setting up Lim as “just another card magician” — a device many media outlets use to build up personalities. But, it’s Lim’s use of music that takes his act even higher — timed perfectly, even to the lively reactions by the judges and guest Tyra Banks — as each featured beat sets up every trick Lim has to offer in his act.

What I especially appreciate is the finale, where Lim pulls off one final unbelievable trick, as the music flourishes to completion. It’s like a “Walk-Off Home Run,” “Drop The Mic” moment for Lim, as he poses to end the act, and Banks walks away in stunned bewilderment. It concludes what turns out to be a great marriage of music and magic.

What a way to pull multiple disciplines out of one’s sleeve.