The ‘Saw Lady’ Strives to Revive the Musical Saw

By Kevin Hogan

NEW YORK—Pictures of men and women playing what looks like steel, flexible violins fill the walls of her living room, a silver carpenter’s saw and a five-foot long charcoal grey two-man saw hang on the wall behind her as she sits in the chair ready to perform. The aroma of aged music paper and oak furniture fill the room.

Natalia Paruz straightened her back and grasped the wooden handle at the top of a musical saw that rests in her lap. As she pulls the bow across the metal, the saw begins to sing a voice likened to a female soprano opera singer. Paruz continues to bend and twist the metal as she plays the Trio section from the Brahms Cello Sonata No. 1.

Paruz, who calls herself the “Saw Lady,” aims to preserve this rare instrument, refine the playing technique, and inform composers about the possibility of composing music for the saw. “I would like to push the art form forward and introduce people to it … [and to] get it to a point where it won’t disappear again like it did in its history,” she tells NTD.

The musical saw was mainly featured in vaudeville performances in the United States at the beginning of the 20th century. When this venue faded in the 1930s however, so did this unique instrument.

Before its disappearance, the saw was used as a musical instrument in classical music and in movies. For example, the Russian composer Aram Khachaturian included a musical saw solo in his piano concerto in 1936. In the movie “Swing Your Lady” starring Humphery Bogart in 1938, the Weaver Brothers play a saw duet in the opening 10 minutes.

One of the earliest records of the musical saw being played was in a priest’s obituary from about two centuries ago, according to Paruz. The obituary stated that a reverend in America played the musical saw in the Sunday service.

Nearly 20 years ago, Paruz first performed the saw at the Salvation Army community center in Astoria, New York. She has  performed at the Trinity Lutheran Church in Astoria many times for a senior citizens group called the Sewing Ladies.

She has built a good friendship with them and the church’s outreach director, Luisana Santana. “What I like the most about her is how much she cares about the legacy of that instrument, the legacy of the church, the legacy of the community,” Santana tells NTD.

Saw playing is now Paruz’s primary source of income, and she has played in the Westchester Philharmonic Orchestra and the Manhattan Chamber Orchestra to name a few.

Paruz wants to open a museum dedicated to this instrument to educate the public about it and to keep the musical saw from disappearing like it did in its history. The museum would house memorabilia like photos, letters, saws, and recordings from saw players of the 20th century.

The musical saw wasn’t always her passion, however. When she was young, she was an avid dancer and attended the Alvin Ailey Dance School in Manhattan. She later joined the Martha Graham Dance Company.

Her dance career ended abruptly when she was hit by a car. She closed herself off from the world in despair. Her parents tried to cheer her up by taking her on a trip to Europe, and it was in Austria where she first laid eyes on the musical saw.

“All of a sudden, there it was right in front of me and I was mesmerized,” she said. “It was the first time since the accident that I was actually interested in something other than dance.”

Playing the saw has enriched her life. “If you bring joy to others, in return, you get joy from them. It just happens,” she said.

Paruz said she found her passion by opening herself up to the world. “What I’ve learned from this experience is to go outside [and] give stuff the chance to come to [you],” she said.

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