By Kevin Zimmerman
After cutting back last year to catch her breath, Natalia Paruz and her orchestra of saw musicians are returning to Astoria for the 11th NYC Musical Saw Festival at Trinity Lutheran Church Saturday, May 30.
A celebration of the carpenter’s go-to tool, the festival is built on the premise that in the right hands, these work-a-day objects create a sound reminiscent of a chorus of sopranos.
“The saw sounds like an opera singer without words,” Paruz said. “Every time we play, people come around looking for the singers.”
That got Paruz, who often goes by her sobriquet “The Saw Lady,” thinking. And those thoughts turned into a musical hypothesis.
“What if we replace the soprano section of a choir with saws?” Paruz said.
The answer will be discovered at the start of this year’s festival when The Astoria Choir joins Paruz and three other saw musicians in a performance of Mozart’s “Ave verum corpus.”
“I thought it was a fabulous idea,” Adam Eggleston, the choir’s director, said. “I thought it would be great fun and beautiful, too.”
The beauty of the instrument’s tones are a large part of what attracted Paruz to it.
When she was 6, and traveling through Europe with her parents, Paruz first heard someone playing a saw.
“I was mesmerized,” Paruz said. “It has this unworldly sound. And it is more visual than any other instrument. I don’t mean because it’s a tool, but the entire instrument moves.”
A saw musician, who plays sitting down, will place the instrument’s handle between his knees. Attached to the other end of the metal is a small wooden handle that moves.
To create the sound, the musician pulls the underside of the saw up while pushing the topside down with the handle and plucking the teeth with a violin bow.
Paruz has been playing the saw for more than 20 years and even offers lessons.
Well, she meets with her students at least once.
“You only take one lesson,” she said. “You learn how to produce the sounds.”
And those sounds attract quite a following.
Before starting the New York festival, Paruz used to travel to Paris to play in that city’s event.
There is also a large gathering of saw musicians each year in California, but instead of a concert, the main event there is a competition, which Paruz does not like.
“It pits one saw player against another,” she said. “I want everyone who comes out to be able to play. And they come out of the woodwork.”
Astoria’s festival owns bragging rights to a 2009 Guinness World Record, when 53 musicians gathered to perform.
This year’s concert will include a performer flying in from Australia and the oldest saw player in the world, a 95-year-old man from North Carolina, Paruz said.
Earlier this week, Paruz and fellow saw musician Dale Stuckenbruck joined The Astoria Choir, sans sopranos, for a rehearsal.
After running the singers through the piece a couple of times, the saws joined in.
“It was excellent,” Paruz said. “It was so much more than I thought it would be. And when there are four of us up here, it’s going to be great.”
If you Go
NYC Musical Saw Festival
When: Saturday, May 30, at 2 pm
Where: Trinity Lutheran Church, 31-18 37th St., Astoria
Reach News Editor Kevin Zimmerman by e-mail at kzimm