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James Barbour: For the love of magic and music


“The first day I met James, he whipped out a deck of cards and told me he did magic,” said senior Brendan Burns, describing his first encounter with James Barbour back in their freshman year, in a uniquely breathtaking fashion. 

While most kids introduced themselves with their name and middle school, Barbour, who is now a senior, put on a show.

“He performed a few tricks on me, and I was speechless,” Burns said.

The library and lunch rooms were filled with the “oohs” and “ahs” of his audience, and word spread quickly of this young magician.  Barbour’s impressive use of sleight of hand earned him a reputation as the resident “magic man,” which soon became part of his Gonzaga identity.

“I’ve always loved doing tricks for my friends and family,” Barbour said.

In middle school, he was known for similar feats and actually tried to shake the persona as he began high school.  While the tricks were helpful to start conversations and make friends, Barbour gradually transitioned into a more private practice.  

“I slowly began entertaining the hobby more privately, reading magic books and practicing at home. I still do, on occasion, show some tricks at school, though,” Barbour said.

While his identity now is not as focused on magic, the passion is still there and has been for more than 10 years.  

When Barbour was seven years old, he saw his first card trick and was immediately hooked.  In the midst of learning the alphabet and the basics of addition, Barbour absorbed as much as he could online and at nearby conventions before finally attending Tannen’s Magic Camp where he could start developing some skills himself. Barbour’s enthusiasm skyrocketed, but bumps still dotted the road ahead.  At the conclusion of his first camp, each student was instructed to perform a trick to show off what they had learned.  While Barbour pulled off the magic, his outfit, of all things, lost him several points. Plaid shorts and a striped long sleeve tee cost him the competition and some of his young, fragile confidence, as well.

“I got critiqued for my fashion choices at a place where a third of the people wore fedoras every day,” Barbour reminisced.

Two years later, Barbour was back at camp, in a similar presentation situation.  With such a young group of kids, the mentors assigned tricks to each of them and every camper went up with a pre-prepared performance.  He had a fake prop guillotine, which essentially pulled off the illusion of ‘chopping off’ a volunteer’s arm. When Barbour selected an unsuspecting child from the audience, he had the utmost confidence in this old, rusted contraption and proudly strapped his subject in.  Things did not go as planned.

“I slammed this guillotine down on this kid’s arm, and it just stayed there.  I could tell he was in immense pain,” Barbour said.“To everyone else it looked like I put a kid’s arm in a guillotine, and it didn’t work, and I made [him] cry.”

Barbour felt understandably guilty and upset, but his passion did not sputter out.  Card magicians like Asi Wind and Dani DaOrtiz, especially, kept his interest alive as he continued attending magic camps annually and perfecting his craft.

As he continued his progression, he performed at a few events, but chose instead to use his talent as an extracurricular rather than a commercial product.

“I’m more of a hobbyist than a full on performer,” Barbour said.  

Nonetheless, his talents still astonish people, leaving one audience member, AP Economics teacher Conor Scott, incredulous.  

“That was buck wild,” remarked Scott, social studies teacher,  as Barbour pulled off yet another magical stunt after class. Barbour has no plans to turn magic into a professional career, but he does value it as an important aspect of his life.

Barbour performs a magic trick with his AP economics teacher Conor Scott.

For all up and coming magicians he noted that “there are a lot of tears in magic,” but “be patient and also persistent,” and the payoff will be worth it.

Believe it or not, Barbour is somewhat tired of being Gonzaga’s “magic guy.”  In his spare time, he also likes to produce music. Similar to magic, he had a snap inspiration and immediately set off to satisfy his curiosity.

“In freshman year, I had no musical ability, but it wasn’t long after I began teaching myself guitar that I downloaded some music production software onto my computer and started making some songs,” Barbour said.

The growth of Barbour’s artistic talent grows through both his music and magic as he closes out his Gonzaga career.

“My two hobbies are pretty different from each other, but I feel the exact same drive and excitement when I make a track I enjoy or find something interesting my software can do as I do when I come up with a new trick or read something intriguing in an old magic book,” Barbour said. “I am proud of how much I’ve been able to learn by just putting my mind to it.”

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    P ValeirasFeb 20, 2020 at 6:57 pm

    Great article. Fun and interesting. Well done!