Piano-playing magician Igor Lapinski performing his routine in the Fulkerson Recital Hall at Humboldt State University Feb. 22. Lapinski combined sporadic piano playing with audience-involved illusions. | Photo by James Wilde

Polish Professor Melds Magic and Music

A dream of illusions and piano prowess with Igor Lapinski
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A dream of illusions and piano prowess with Igor Lapinski

I know a little about magic. And by the end of Polish pianist and magician Igor Lapinski’s Feb. 22 show, I knew I had witnessed something good.

“Your free will,” Lapinski said in an almost-cliché line that sounded much more convincing with his Polish accent and navy suit, “is just an illusion. A dream.”

He then pulled a signed dollar bill out of an unopened kiwi.

Lapinski interlaced illusions with piano pieces by Frédéric François Chopin, the Polish composer. Lapinski, originally from Poland, teaches as an assistant music professor at the University of Oklahoma.

“He’s going to do something I think we haven’t seen in Humboldt,” music Professor Daniela Mineva and former teacher of Lapinski said before he took the stage. “I’ve been waiting 18 years to bring him here.”

Hands, he said, are capable of both the sublime and the violent.

The crowd of mostly older locals sat in a semicircle on the Fulkerson Recital Hall stage around Lapinski and his piano. Rather than have the crowd sit in the hall seats, Lapinski had chairs arranged around him for an intimate experience.

Lapinski fluctuated between musical pieces of chaos and pieces of order. He rapped on “a haunting desire to belong.” In a three card monte-style routine with red solo cups and a single metal spike, he noted the opposing potentials within people.

Hands, he said, are capable of both the sublime and the violent.

He then shrugged off the thought and smashed his and an audience member’s hands down onto the cups in a game of Russian roulette.

Multiple effects relied on the appearance and disappearance of letters—mostly written by Lapinski, with one supposedly written by his mother. The letters framed the performance in the idea of belonging, as Lapinski brought the audience along on an imaginary plane ride and read letters from home.

I have to confess, because I know a bit about magic, I’m not a good judge of it. I spent about two of my teenage years learning magic tricks. I know the basics, and I can recognize standard sleight-of-hand moves.

I’m no longer what magicians call a layperson. Even when I don’t know exactly how a trick is performed, it’s conceivable. It’s rare for me to see something inexplicable. But it does happen.

Any attendee of Lapinski’s show can expect to exit with a smile on their face, or at least, a warm feeling in their mind. I can deduce how Lapinski performed his effects—but several of them I can only grasp loosely. For a layperson, his performance may be miraculous, not just puzzling.

Magicians ultimately seek to produce miracles. The central argument of “Designing Miracles,” a well-regarded book by magician Darwin Ortiz, is that a magician should seek to produce an effect that doesn’t make the audience ask, “How do they do it?” Instead, the goal is, “How is that possible?”

It’s slight, but this marks the difference between a trick and a miracle. A trick is a matter of deception that can be explained by a magician’s actions. A miracle is just that: pure magic that a magician merely facilitated. In the ideal, the performance transcends trickery and becomes magic.

In the moments after Lapinski’s show, the audience agreed on his excellence.

“He’s totally amazing,” a woman behind me said.

“He’s a delight,” Mineva, the professor, said.

“He’s hilarious,” a man beside me said. “He’s great.”

At the very least, you can escape into a dream for just over 60 minutes. Lapinski finished with one last letter and one last piece by Chopin.

“And so with this piece,” he said, “I wish you all a good night.”

The night, indeed, was good.

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