The 11th New York City Musical Saw Festival is happening on May 30, 2015 in Astoria, New York at the Trinity Lutheran Church. If you are not familiar with this type of musical event, then take notes – musical notes that is. This form of music is very unique and almost ethereal in the sounds that are created by these musicians.
The NYC Musical Saw Festival was established by Founder and Director Natalia ‘Saw Lady’ Paruz in 2002 and since then she has created quite the following of Saw players from around the world.
From The Musical Saw Festival Website:
The NYC Musical Saw Festival is held in Astoria (Queens), NYC every other summer. The festival brings together musical saw players from all over NYC, the US and abroad and aims to preserve the past, honor the present and help shape the future of the 300 year-old art form of making music with a carpenter’s handsaw. Astoria has become a pilgrimage place for saw players from such far away countries as China, Japan, India, Germany, Sweden and Canada.
The festival enables saw players to meet other saw players and hear them play, perform solos and jam with others, learn about different types of saws and discover different techniques of playing – all in a friendly, supportive atmosphere.
The festival is open to the public at large who can learn about the musical saw and enjoy a unique concert featuring the angelic sounds of the musical saw. Another part of the festival is an art exhibit featuring the musical saw. There is also a workshop for musical saw players.
Natalia Paruz, is a self-taught Saw player, and has enjoyed music in various forms for many years. I had the opportunity to learn some history about this inspiring woman and what she has created through her passion for music, not only for herself, but for many others as well.
Natalia took the time to enlighten me about her festival and her background:
Examiner: Do people have to audition prior to coming to the festival?
Natalia: No. Sawists of all levels are welcome to participate (perform and take the workshops). The atmosphere is very encouraging and non-judgmental. In the past we’ve had people make their very first sound with a saw at the festival – that is always very exciting.
Examiner: How many performers do you normally have?
Natalia: Usually between 30 and 50 performers.
Examiner: Since you are a non-profit organization, do you have sponsors that you turn to for funding?
Natalia: We used to get a grant from the Queens Council on the Arts but they now only support new endeavors, so for the past 2 festivals we’ve relied solely on ticket sales and our sales tables, which are full of musical saw related merchandise, donated by the different saw players.
Examiner: How did you first begin playing the saw? Tell me your experience.
Natalia: I was a professional dancer. I was a trainee with the Martha Graham Dance Company of Contemporary Dance – I was a tap-dance teacher and demonstrator for Dance Masters and Dance Educators of America. I earned a living performing in musical theater – in short, I was a happy dancer, until…One day, on my way home from Lincoln Center, I crossed the street and was hit by a speeding taxicab. That was the end of my dance career as I suffered permanent damage to my upper spine. Needless to say, I was devastated. I had dedicated my life to dance, and now, what was I going to do? To cheer me up, my parents took me on a trip to Austria. You see, as a kid, I loved the movie, The Sound of Music. I watched it 14 times! So, my parents took me to the country where it was made. While there, we attended a show for tourists. One of the acts was…you guessed it…a musical saw player! Now, I had never seen nor heard of a musical saw before. This was totally new to me and it blew me away. I thought the sound was phenomenal – spiritual, angelic and different from any sound that I had heard before. What really appealed to me though was the visual – not the fact that it was a tool, but the fact that the whole instrument moved and the sawist’s upper body along with it. It was like a dance! The musical saw is one of the few instruments where the entire instrument moves and changes shape constantly as it is played, (unlike a violin, for example, where only the bow moves but the body of the violin never changes shape).
After the show, I went backstage and talked to the sawist. I asked him to give me lessons. His answer was a flat and resounding “No.” Of course I said I would pay him, and asked how much he wanted, but he just told me that I didn’t need a teacher. He said, “Pick up a handsaw, hold it the way you have seen me do on stage, and you’ll figure it out.” As a bonus hint, he told me that the more expensive the saw, the better it would sound.
Armed with these instructions, I borrowed an old saw from someone. It was rusty from time and woodwork, so it only had 6 notes left on it. A trip to the local hardware store was an interesting experience. The owner was furious about the “whistling” that somebody was doing in his store – he was very puzzled when he realized where the sound was coming from, but he let me continue to test all of his saws when he realized that I was going to purchase an expensive saw.
Indeed, the Austrian sawist was right. I did figure it out on my own, and I’m very grateful to him now, for having given me the satisfaction of being able to say that I did it all on my own. I never thought of making a career out of playing the saw. It was just a hobby, but when God shut the door of the dance world on me, he made sure to open the musical saw world window for me and ushered me through it.
Examiner note: Natalia, has indeed turned her hobby into a career playing the saw. She has performed around the world with many Orchestras such as the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, The Westchester Philharmonic Orchestra, the Royal Air Moroccan Symphony Orchestra, and the Manhattan Chamber Orchestra, just to name a few; debuted at Carnegie Hall in 2007 as a musical saw soloist and in 2008 she made her Madison Square Garden debut. In addition, she has made numerous television appearances including FOX (Good Day New York), ABC (Good Morning America), VH1 (Behind the Music), The History Channel (Tool Box), PBS (Music Under New York – Emmy Award Winner) and even appeared on films such as Dummy with Adrien Brody and The Heart is a Drum Machine. She’s performed on radio as well including NPR, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, WFMU and WBAI. She’s recorded on Capitol Records, Universal Records and Atlantic Records with such artists as John Hiatt and composer Elliot Goldenthal. She’s received grants from The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and The New York State Council on the Arts. If this isn’t enough, Natalia’s musical saw can also be heard on TV commercial spots such as Volvo, Motorola, Chex Mix & California Cheese.
Natalia has received citations of honor from the New York City Council, the New York State Senate, The New York State Assembly, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and a medal of honor from Paris, France. She was chosen by Time Out New York, The Village Voice, The New York Press and The New York Resident for their Best of New York lists, and was featured in articles by The New York Times, The Boston Globe and New York – Metro.
Natalia’s goal: “…is not only to preserve the rare art form of playing music on a saw, but to also try and push it forward through the invention of better playing technique, fine-tuning the instrument, educating composers about the possibilities of composing for the saw, and bringing the instrument to public awareness. This last part, bringing the instrument into public awareness, she does not only through performances on the legitimate stage/TV/radio but also by bringing the music of the musical saw directly to people where people are – on the street. By performing in the subway she brings the art form to people who might not otherwise be able to encounter it.“
Just a couple more questions for this talented woman:
Examiner: How do you advertise your upcoming festivals – especially to those outside the United States. Social Media? Magazines? Online newspapers?
Natalia: I have been “collecting” saw players via the Internet for many years, searching articles, social media and blogs, as well as a lot of word of mouth. When I perform, people always come to tell me of other times where they encountered saw playing. I reach out to sawists year round and collect their contact info.
Examiner: Do you have an awards ceremony at the end of the festival for best musicians?
Natalia: The awards ceremony is at the beginning of the festival, and as we are a non-judgmental environment, the award categories are, Oldest Saw Player, (this year it goes to a 95 year old sawist from NC) and Sawist Who Traveled the Farthest in order to attend the festival, (this year we have a sawist from Australia).
If you would like to attend this very intriguing and unique event, admission is $10. The location is the Trinity Lutheran Church, 31-18 37th Street (at 31st Avenue), Astoria (Queens), New York. The date is May 30, 2015 and the program begins at 2:00pm. If you would like to learn how to play the saw, interact with other musicians, and have a great time – you know what to do. Enjoy!