If you’re old enough to remember the Magic Eye craze of the 90’s, you can probably recall standing among a curious crowd and staring at a framed mass of vivid dots and swirls in an effort to summon the underlying 3-D image. I remember how tickled I was the first time I achieved this feat, and how amazed I was by the clarity of the hidden figures. They leaped from the page, like you could reach out and grab hold of them.
It made enough of an impression on me that I used Magic Eye images in the music classes I taught for more than twenty years.
Let me explain how the pop art phenomenon makes a musical point.
A piano lesson amid murder and mayhem
In my thriller Nocturne In Ashes my main character, concert pianist Riley Forte, teaches a piano lesson to a teenage girl while volcanic ash falls and a killer stalks the neighborhood. Impressed by her young student’s equanimity amid disaster, Riley presents Rebecca with a piece of tempestuous-looking artwork…
“What do you see?”
Rebecca studied the print. “I see a lot of tiny splotches of color. What am I missing?”
“Do you see any light reflecting from the picture? Okay, good. Focus on that point of light, but keep your eyes relaxed. Don’t be shocked when the image starts to firm up. Just go with it.”
Rebecca’s eyes took on a far-away look as she stared down at the collage of apparently random dots. After two minutes of silence, she looked up, embarrassed.
“I don’t know what I should be seeing. It’s just dots on a page.”
“Shhh…relax and keep looking. Be patient with yourself. Learning how to look at something a different way takes time.”
The girl took a deep breath and focused down on the picture again. Riley perceived the moment the image began to swim into view, saw Rebecca lose it and struggle to get it back. A look of wonder and satisfaction spread over her face.
“It’s the Statue of Liberty! So bright and sharp I could almost touch it.”
She popped up from the bench and went to examine the other framed pictures, exclaiming over the images that emerged.
“Very cool,” she said, “but what’s it got to do with music?”
“Music is just dots on a page until you know how to look at it properly. And when you figure out how to see the big picture, it opens up worlds you didn’t even know existed. I aim to teach you how to see the big picture, how to open up some of those doors. It is, as you say, very cool.”
A lot to be learned from the Magic Eye
I think we can glean a few bits of wisdom from the experience of struggling over a Magic Eye picture until it reveals its secrets. Like Riley’s student, we can learn to look at something a different way, to change our perception. We can learn to look beneath the surface to find significance.
We can learn that sometimes it’s best to relax, be patient, and let the image shimmer forth once we take the pressure off ourselves. We can learn to find meaning in what first appears as chaos.
All of these “lessons” come into play for Riley in Nocturne as she seeks to survive and bring down a cunning and brutal killer.
And to think it all sprang from my memories of standing around the mall with a crowd of strangers, squinting into the face of a forgotten pop art phenom!
How about you? Do you have your own Magic Eye moments? Tell us about it in the comments.
I wish my music teachers in school had used Magic Eye pictures – I might’ve learned how to read music. I memorize how songs sound instead. It’s not hard, but I can’t sight read at all.
Hi, Joy! Thanks so much for reading and sharing your comment. Yes, I have found these ideas behind the Magic Eye pictures instructive in teaching music and interesting for the students. Still, there are many modes of musical skill, and being able to play by ear or by memory is a very useful and valuable talent. Stick with music–it’s a wonderful way to enrich your life!
Thanks again for reading!