By Rebecca Henely
Making music with a saw and violin bow may sound like a niche interest, but the NYC Musical Saw Festival at the Hellenic Cultural Center in Astoria Saturday proved it is one with an international appeal that only seems to be growing.
Festival organizer Natalia “Saw Lady” Paruz, a 17-year saw player who lives in Astoria, said the event began with four saw players and now, eight years later, has grown to 30, with players coming from as close by as New York City to as far away as Japan.
This year also featured the debut of both a new song composed specifically for the musical saw, “Seen and Unseen” by Eyal Bat, and the debut of Paruz’s new band, Ameriklectic, which played compositions in which the musical saw is the featured instrument. Paruz said she is already planning to record with her new band and to hold next year’s festival at a larger venue.
“Astoria has sort of become a pilgrimage place for saw players,” Paruz said.
Paruz’s passion for the instrument, which has led her to multiple concert and media appearances from a solo in Carneige Hall to an appearance on MTV’s “Andy Milonakis Show” to NPR’s “Prairie Home Companion,” has made her a lightning rod for other fans of the instrument.
Before she became a musician, Paruz was a dancer but was hit by a car while walking on the street.
“That put an end to my dance career,” Paruz said, “and I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life.”
When she took a trip to Europe with her parents a short time after being hit, she saw a man playing a saw, which she said was the first time she had felt excited about something since the accident. When she started playing, it began as a hobby, but her neighbors heard her playing and asked her to play for a charity function.
Word of mouth spread, first to other venues that wanted Paruz to play for them, which led to Paruz playing the saw and other musical instruments such as handbells professionally, then to other saw players. Eight years ago, a saw player from California contacted Paruz and wanted to come to New York to meet Paruz. She said yes, but only if the other, local saw players Paruz knew could meet the Californian as well.
This was the birth of the first saw festival. In subsequent years, more and more saw players wanted to meet with Paruz, and what began as meet-ups turned into an annual event that now takes all year to plan. The small theater was packed at the Hellenic center at 27-09 Crescent St.
“They just unanimously decided I should be the one to put on the festival,” she said.
Paruz said the saw is played by placing the handle between the legs for stability, then using the left hand to bend the blade from the tip as the right hand runs a violin bow along the non-serrated edge. The more the saw is bent, the higher the notes. Any saw can be played this way, although most saws made for music have no teeth or have teeth that are decorative and not sharpened.
“I’ve been playing for 17 years and I’ve never hurt myself,” Paruz said.
Lisa Mayer, a former Hillcrest resident who played at the festival with her husband and Kew Gardens native Sruli Dresdner, said the saw’s use as a carpenter tool and a musical instrument is one of its appeals.
“It’s utilitarian and artistic,” she said.
WooYoung Park, who came from Osaka, Japan, to play at the festival, said the sound of the saw is also a prime appeal.
“The sound is beautiful and unique,” she said. “It’s a free sound.”
Paruz said that for her the music has become a way for her to meet people of all ages, religions and backgrounds, in addition to sounding beautiful.
“It’s angelic and otherworldly and spiritual,” Paruz said. “It has a magic to it.”
Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.