By Tammy Scileppi
Recorded in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest musical saw ensemble ever assembled, the NYC Musical Saw Festival returned to Astoria for its 10th-year milestone celebration, filling Trinity Lutheran Church, at 31-18 37th St., last weekend with 300-plus concertgoers, including many diehard fans and curious folks looking for a new musical experience.
The applause was deafening as 40 international saw musicians gathered on stage to perform together or solo, while the entire six-hour event captured the essence of the unusual instrument that produces haunting, ethereal sounds.
Organizer/director Natalia “Saw Lady” Paruz, known for her subway station performances, was the star. She played a repertoire of beautiful arrangements and tunes, accompanied by a full orchestra of 12 musicians. Her performance of composer Scott Munson’s “Cinematic Suite” received a standing ovation.
During a phone interview, Paruz said she recently received a Declaration of Honor from Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, in which Marshall proclaimed June 1 “Musical Saw Festival Day.”
“It was a huge surprise for me and I’m so grateful to her,” Paruz said. She also got letters of recognition from Councilman Peter Vallone and others, even Mayor Bloomberg.
“It’s really gratifying how the festival took root, and I’m really grateful how the Musical Saw Festival is getting recognition,” Paruz said.
A skilled musician plays the musical saw using a violin or cello bow and creates arrangements by ear, or plays popular tunes using standard musical notes, without any visual indication on the instrument as to where the notes would be. So, for example, quarter and half notes are achieved by gently manipulating the blade back and forth causing it to vibrate, thereby generating sounds that can only be described as other-worldly.
Paruz, who has performed at the Queens Botanical Gardens, Flushing Library, various churches and parks, and yearly at The Astoria Historical Society, started playing the musical saw about 19 years ago and hasn’t stopped since. She says she’s still learning. It all started when she traveled to Europe with her parents at age 6 and happened to come across a man playing his saw on a street in Austria.
“There were no teachers I could go to, so I had to sort of reinvent the wheel for myself. But today I teach, and other people teach, so it evolved,” she said.
Offering lessons from her home, her students range in age from 14 to 83. Paruz said, “It’s not like violin lessons that are ongoing; there’s one lesson and I teach you everything you need to know, and there’s exercises where you practice on your own. Very few people ever need a second lesson.”
And you don’t have to have prior musical training. But it helps.
The Saw Lady says she finds classical music the most challenging to play and her favorite traditional composers are Bach, Mozart and Brahms. Along with performing pop and show tunes, she works with a lot of composers and singer-songwriters. “I don’t compose, but I interpret other people’s music,” she said.
Paruz’s fascination with musical saws grew over the years as she honed her special talent and turned it into a passion that truly defines her. She has shared her gift with thousands. That’s why she still chooses to perform in the subway. It’s not only because of the great acoustics, but especially because her audience is always close by and easy to connect with.
Her favorite stations to play are: Union Square, Herald Square and 59th Street at Lexington Avenue. She usually performs three days a week.
“It’s so nice to see at the Saw Festival how this art form transcends ages and cultural barriers,” Paruz said. “It’s really an art form for everyone.”
Paruz has an upcoming performance June 22 at Parrish Art Museum in the Hamptons, L.I. For more information on the festival and Paruz, check out www.musicalsawfestival.org.