Making magic and spreading its joys around

Sunday Snapshots

Ken Horsman...

April 21, 1996|By Michael Ollove

Making magic and spreading its joys around; Ken Horsman: 0) Former Barnum & Bailey circus clown now initiates young people into the mysterious arts.

The keynote speaker at Ken Horsman's college graduation was Emmett Kelly, which seems perfectly appropriate once you realize that Mr. Horsman is a graduate of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College. For nearly five years, Mr. Horsman did earn his living with Ringling as a clown -- a boss clown, as a matter of fact -- before coming home to Baltimore with his wife and fellow clown, Bernadette, to pursue a higher calling -- the spreading of magic throughout the land.

That was in 1981. While the Horsmans both still perform, today they also own and operate "Ken-Zo presents The Yogi Magic Mart on South Charles Street," a dispensary of all manner of information pertaining to the mysterious arts. Here, amid posters and pictures of such legendary practitioners as Houdini and Blackstone and Carter the Great, one can buy the necessary ingredients for hundreds of different kinds of tricks, from coins to cards, from ropes to scarves. You can spend as little as 45 cents for a trick to as much as $2,500 if you happen to need a cabinet to saw your lovely assistant in half.

But the Horsmans are prouder still of what goes on in the theater upstairs. On the first Saturday of each month, they convene the Yogi Magic Club, where the young are initiated into the magic arts. And at least once a month, patrons can attend a lecture by a professional magician -- usually a big name from out of town. For the price of admission, attendees get to learn how a particular trick is done.

For today's aspiring performers, Mr. Horsman, 38, says, there is far more information about magic than ever before. "For years, you had to know someone who was willing to pass on the secrets to you," says Mr. Horsman. "Today there are tons of books and videos, which are even better for learning magic."

For all magic's mystery, Mr. Horseman says, it is a most democratic performing art. Anyone with an interest and a willingness to practice, practice, practice, can learn. "There's no money barrier, no language barrier and no education barrier. Anyone can do magic." Even clowns.

Every Wednesday, as anxious visitors pass through the lobby of Union Memorial Hospital, they receive a calming dose of Debussy, Faure and sometimes even Gershwin, courtesy of harpist Mary Ellen Holmes.

The 49-year-old harpist has volunteered at the hospital for more than a year. Her music soothes frazzled hospital employees as well as families visiting loved ones.

Usually the Charles Village resident plays more conventional gigs: weddings, engagements at such restaurants as Peerce's Plantation and private receptions at spots like the Baltimore Museum of Art.

During her six years as a full-time free-lancer, she has developed a repertoire of classical, pop, sacred and even Fats Waller music; she also plays jazz once a week with Ashton Fletcher's band at Dundalk Community College.

"I'm trying to branch out, avoid a kind of stuffiness," Ms. Holmes explains. "The harp world can be perfectionistic at times."

Born in St. Louis, the harpist spent college and most of her adult life in San Francisco working as a caterer, an adult education teacher, a dental assistant, a mail deliverer and a matchmaker while studying harp on the side. After moving East, she got her first big break with a regular gig at the Crystal City Marriott near Washington.

L Ms. Holmes enjoys engagements which allow for harpist humor.

"I actually do wear wings for the more free-spirited gigs," she says. "I think it's fun, major fun, to play this thing."

Ms. Holmes describes her instrument as gorgeous, spirited and comforting.

"The American Harp Society will kill me, but one of the big attractions of the harp is that it is so soothing," she says. "I happen to be at that point in my career that I'm delighted when people say, 'Your music makes me so relaxed that I just want to go to sleep.' "

Pub Date: 4/21/96

Linell Smith

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