Talk about having a visceral reaction to all the hyper-sophisticated marketing techniques that have brought the world micro-sites and nano-information and people who want to be your “friend” on Facebook whose identity totally eludes you and all those other folks Foursquaring about places that absolutely nobody whatsoever one cares about.
This is instead a story about community.
Walking home from the subway about 10 days ago, I noticed a yellow flyer taped up to a light pole.
The flyer was advertising the 8th annual Musical Saw Festival, which will take place on Sat., Aug. 7, in my neighborhood — at the Hellenic Cultural Center (27-09 Crescent St., corner of Newtown Ave.) — Astoria, Queens.
And it’s just $10 to attend.
My first question: what is a musical saw? A picture — or in this case a video — is worth a thousand words. Watch:
Upon further investigation, I discovered that a woman named Natalia Paruz, who has given herself the razor-sharp moniker “Saw Lady,” is the founder and director of the Musical Saw Festival. Paruz, as moniker implies, has been the guiding vision for the festival lo these past eight years. As a seven-year resident of Astoria, my second question was: where on earth have I been?
Clearly not getting nearly enough of a musical education!
So, the first thing I wanted to ask Paruz, having twice availed myself of the above video and found myself completely besotted with the genre, is what a musical saw — and, for that matter, a festival of playing them — really is.
And here is the answer, courtesy of Paruz:
“It is a concert and art exhibit revolving around the 300-year-old art of playing music on a carpenter’s handsaw. Musical saw solos and ensembles, performing many music styles (jazz, classical, pop, folk, show tunes, etc.) performed by musical saw players from all over the world. Also, there is Ameriklectic, a 10-piece jazz band featuring the musical saw as the lead instrument.”
The festival, let’s be sure to add, is made possible by the Queens Council on the Arts with public funding from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and the New York State Council on the Arts.
Paruz also has terrific website called, appropriately enough, Saw Lady, and I urge you all to check it out.
And, yes, I will attend the festival at 2pm this Saturday — and I strongly urge some of you to join me.
And now, 5 questions Natalia “Saw Lady” Paruz has never been asked — and a bonus question:
1) What’s the most perceptive question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
“Does the quality of the steel the saw is made of affect the sound?”
It sure does. Basically, the more expensive a saw is, the better the steel quality and the better the sound. The blade’s thickness and it’s cut influence the quality of the sound, too.
2) What’s the most idiotic question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
“How come when you play the saw the bow doesn’t get torn by the saw’s teeth?” (I play on the other side of the blade, the side with no teeth).
3) What’s the weirdest question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
“Is this a knife?” (motioning at the musical saw).
The funny thing is, when I was 7 years old, composer Zvi Avni taught me how to play a knife as a percussion instrument (in a very different way than saws are played).
4) Some say playing a musical saw is easier than playing other instruments. What’s the biggest obstacle to popularizing a musical saw, and how can, for example, a tone-deaf person learn to enjoy playing it? Do you use musical scales and notation like other instruments?
Making sounds with a saw for some people might be easy, but playing in tune and being right in the center of the pitch is extremely difficult. One must have very good ears in order to play a saw well. There is no indication of where the notes are located on the blade and often times the placement of the notes changes with the shifting of the handle between the knees — finding the notes (which on a piano, for example, is very obvious) is done by feel with fine-tuning by ear. In addition, bending the blade takes a lot of muscle, so playing the saw is more physically taxing than playing other instruments. The biggest obstacle I find is getting people to listen to saw playing. People imagine that it would sound like a log being sawed in half. Every person I talked to who has never heard a saw before told me that once they listened to me, they realized the sound isn’t anything close to what they imagined it would be like. It’s getting people to give the saw a listen to begin with which is difficult.
Sheet music is written for the saw in G clef, in standard music notation.
5) In terms of physically handling a musical saw, what are some tips so as not to get cut? Do they travel in their own cases? Have you ever had an unintentional accident with one?
Many saw players file the teeth off their saws, for safety. The amount of metal in the teeth is so small that it has no effect on the sound. Most saws manufactured especially for music either have teeth that are not set (and are not so sharp) or have no teeth at all.
I carry my saw in a sports gun case — it’s a perfect fit. When I take it onto an airplane, I have a hard case that was made especially for the purpose.
I never cut myself (nor anybody else) with the saw, but I did break two saws as a result of a lot of playing.
6) For yourself as a musician, what is the most and least beautiful piece of music you’ve ever played on a musical saw? What is the feeling you experienced from each piece — and what do you want your audience to feel while listening?
The least beautiful I guess would be when I am hired just to make sound effects. Once a film guy wanted me to make wind sounds with the saw…for me, making sound effects is just not interesting. The most beautiful piece is usually the one I am currently working on…I like challenging pieces that push my technique forward, but I also love easy pieces to play, where I can just zone out into a meditative, prayer-like feel. What I hope the audience feels varies with the type of music — sometimes it can be a comic effect and sometimes a meditative effect. One time a gentleman told me that he heard me play but didn’t see me at first. He didn’t know where the sound was coming from and he thought he had died and gone to heaven and that he was hearing angels sing. I thought that was very neat.