Saws aren’t just for Texas chainsaw massacres — they can also be put to use by musicians, as the New York City Musical Saw Festival will show. Now in its eleventh edition, the event, presented by Natalia “Saw Lady” Paruz, will gather about 50 saw players from all over the world, from a 95-year-old who’s been playing for 75 years to a saw savant who’ll join the Astoria Symphonic Choir for a rendition of Mozart’s “Ave Verum Corpus.”
Composer Scott Munson, who wrote the soundtrack of Another Earth, will present a new arrangement of his work, where the saw will be accompanied by bells. There’ll be an orchestra of 20 players from Japan and, for the first time, a British “invasion,” with six participants coming from the United Kingdom.
In the last ten years, Paruz told us, the musical saw has garnered a considerable amount of popularity thanks in part to movie and tv soundtracks: Paruz herself has performed for HBO’s The Jinx, Mike Cahill’s Another Earth and recently also played with actress and singer songwriter Nicki Aycock from Supernatural.
She started playing the instrument by chance: “It’s not something that I planned on, it just sort of happened,” the Israel-born 36-year-old recalls. She was a trainee at the Martha Graham dance company when a car accident ended her dance career. During a trip to Austria, at a “show for tourists,” she saw a guy playing some Austrian folk tunes on the saw. “It was the first time since the accident that I actually felt excited about something that wasn’t dance,” she told me, and so she immediately wanted to know how to play that instrument, too. “The sound was mesmerizing, very spiritual, otherwordly. It does not sound like anything else, except maybe a soprano singer, or an opera singer singing without words.” Plus, it looks cool.
Because she’s self-taught, Paruz holds the bow in a unique way: not like a cello bow, but like “a knife to cut a steak.” A few technicalities for your nerdy needs: The shorter the length of the blade, the higher the register, a 32-inches long saw spans three octaves. The thickness of the blade also influences the sound: the thicker the blade, the “meatier” the sound. There are few original compositions for musical saw, but Paruz favors the arrangements of Schubert’s and Shostakovich’s works.
Here’s a video of her doing her thing and then go see in person.
New York City Musical Saw Festival, Saturday, May 30, 2 p.m. at Trinity Church, 31-18 37th St. (37th Street at 31st Avenue), Astoria, Queens; admission $10.