Synchronicity plays prominent role in birth of 'The Great Jordini'
As Indiana University's first magic major, IU senior Jordan Goldklang knows how to pull a rabbit out of a hat -- just please don't ask him how he does it.
"Most people automatically think of magic as cutting people in half or pulling rabbits out of hats, which obviously we have no classes for here," said Goldklang, who will graduate from IU Bloomington in May with a degree in magic from the Individualized Major Program (IMP).
A magical major
When Goldklang first approached then-director of the IMP Ray Hedin about his idea for a magic major, Hedin was reminded of another graduate of the program with an unusual major: Will Shortz, who completed his IMP in enigmatology in 1974 before ascending to become editor of the New York Times crossword puzzle. (Hedin stepped down from the position in June; John McDowell, professor of folklore and ethnomusicology and director of Minority Languages and Cultures in Latin America, is the program's current director.)
Hedin, an IU English professor of American literature who continues to engage with IMP as a sponsor and part of the program's university-wide committee, was intrigued by Goldklang's idea, but was initially unsure of how it would apply to IU's course offerings.
"Part of IMP is a filtering process," said Hedin. "We have to have someone come in with a fairly strong idea. They can have different interest areas, and we can brainstorm about how to put them together. Other times, if an idea doesn't seem coherent, they need to go back and rethink the idea and re-apply."
"But when I first heard about Jordan's idea for a magic major, I did think about Will Shortz."
Goldklang said he was able to explain that his idea for the major was closely tied to psychology, theater and the principal of being a professional entertainer. "There's more to it than just the tricks and illusions -- and that's what I'm interested in studying," he said.
A former violin student in the Jacobs School of Music, Goldklang came in with two faculty sponsors: Rob Goldstone, head of the Cognitive Sciences Program, whom he had seen use a magic trick in class as part of a psychology experiment, and Jeff Nelsen, a French horn professor at the Jacobs school who is also a magician.
From the time he switched his major from violin to magic sophomore year, Goldklang's IU courses have included psychology and cognitive psychology, performance study, voice and speech, and the history of magic, among many others, most from IU's College of Arts and Sciences.
During the summer of 2008, he interned with professional magician Jay Alexander in San Francisco. Alexander has performed for the Rolling Stones, Robin Williams and several Fortune 500 companies. ("It was a good opportunity to find out what it is to be a real working professional magician," Goldklang said.)
Through IU, Goldklang has also met and developed a friendship with puzzle-master Shortz. "I didn't know much about Will Shortz-just that he did his IMP major here and then went on to become as successful as he possibly could in what he did," said Goldklang of meeting Shortz at an IMP event on campus. "Everyone else was a little star struck. I went up to him and said 'Magic and puzzles actually have quite a lot in common,' and we connected on that level."
Goldklang recalls being captivated by magic as a child. He received his first magic trick at 7 (from the Magic Works series, created by Mark Setteducati, whom he recently met) and has been entertaining at parties since he was 13.
As a teenager, Goldklang spent his junior high lunch hours honing his craft under the watchful eyes of the harshest critics imaginable: his classmates. Each day, he tried to outdo himself with better and better illusions. "When I was 13, that's when it really blossomed," he said. "I would have hundreds of kids every day who would want to see magic, so I had to get better and better. They're not going to sit there and smile and say, 'Oh, that was good.' They'll point you out on the stuff they saw because they want to figure it out. It was a great opportunity for me."
Currently, nearly 150 students are enrolled in IU's Individualized Major Program, with between 150-200 faculty sponsors. "Each student provides a two page rationale about what they want to study and describes the major in a 1.5-hour interview, and each student has one or two faculty 'sponsors' who have to agree to the courses that compose the major," Hedin said. "The sponsors can suggest or require modifications so the major comes out stronger."
'Everywhere there are people, I can do magic'
For Goldklang, who entered IU as a music major, you might say events have unfolded magically to set his current career path.
"My sponsors sort of found me. By chance, I met both of them, and then I also, by chance, met Joel Silver, curator of books over at the Lilly Library, who happens to be a magic enthusiast and has collected quite a bit of magic literature for the library and knows a ton about magic history," he said. "So everything sort of fell into place, and the whole process worked itself out, like it was meant to happen."
"I get a lot of people who say 'I didn't know you could major in magic,' or 'I didn't know IU had a magic major,' and the answer to both of those is 'you can't' and 'they don't.' It's the same thing when people talk about majoring in enigmatology," he said. "The reason it doesn't really work to do the same major is that the classes aren't really set up. People can take some of the same classes that I took, but they're not going to have the same sponsors and the same internships and connections that I had with all of my advisers."
"The fact that I can say I'm majoring in magic is so unique that it's granted me all of this press and interest and really taken my career to the next level. I definitely would not have been able to get this far as easily without the major."
Goldklang will continue performing at private parties and IMP events around town with plans to eventually move back to his California home. "I might go to Las Vegas or Los Angeles, but I may just stay in the San Francisco Bay area, all of which are pretty good places to find performing venues," he said. "Anywhere there are people, I can do magic."