A Church Full of Musical Saw Players in Queens, NY!

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There were at least 60 of them, from all corners of the world.  For the first time, an orchestra of saw players from Japan came to perform.  The person who traveled the furthest, and won an award for doing so, hailed from Australia.  There were several players from France, and a first-time collection of English saw players who were dubbed “the invasion of the Brits.”  Several old-timers who perform every year hail from the Caribbean islands.  The West Coast was represented by a funky Californian who played old-style rock and a Coloradan who was dressed in a rodeo-styled outfit and played with  yippie ki-yay bravado.  There were the more demure players who live throughout  the USA and have been playing their saws since they were children. They included saw players who grew up in a religious tradition and play sacred music on their saws. And there was my daughter who has played the saw for the past eight years and performed in about five of the eleven saw festivals held so far, as well as participating in a jam session at the Santa Cruz, California Saw Festival three years ago. Here she is performing Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty Waltz at the Queens festival.

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The founder and inspiration for the NYC Musical Saw Festival is a lovely woman named Natalia Paruz. She took up the saw after a catastrophic event; a car crashed into her costing her her career in ballet. Learning to play and perform on the saw helped her spirits and her music soar, and she can now be heard in orchestra performances around the world as well as in the subways of NYC. The NYC Musical Saw Festival is her baby and she has brought it from its infancy to an event that now draws players from all over the world to a borough that boasts the most diversity of any city in the world.

The location of the saw festival for the past several years has been a lovely Lutheran church in Astoria, Queens.  The gothic ceilings soar high above the participants and give their playing a resonance that can only be produced in a cathedral such as this one.  The audience is surrounded by stained-glass windows which provide natural dramatic lighting for the long afternoon event.  The intricately carved woodwork of the altar provides an amazing backdrop for the performers and an interesting contrast to the nonsecular music that is taking place. I couldn’t help thinking, as I sat in the pew, that this is what churches were built for…the coming together of people to celebrate their shared joy.

Can anyone play the saw? Yes, according to many of the saw players in attendance.  Their advice: Just look around for an unused saw in an old toolbox and begin to fool around with a bow.  If you still feel passionate about it after a few months, try a more user-friendly musical saw.  Patience and persistence are the key.

The festival closed, as it always does, with a group performance of Ave Maria and Somewhere Over the Rainbow.  If you are curious enough to want to hear the other-worldly sound that only saw players can produce, then log on to the website listed on the poster above where you can find a link to the recent festival.  But be forewarned…doing so can change your life as it did ours!

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7 thoughts on “A Church Full of Musical Saw Players in Queens, NY!”

  1. I am feeling a little flabbergasted at all the things I do not know. Up till this moment, I did not know that musical sawing existed! I am fascinated. How did your daughter come to learn about sawing? Is it something traditional musicians often do or is mostly for people who did not go the traditional music route? Any saw works? It just astounds me that each slice you write, like peeling an onion, reveals another unseen layer I would never have known about had you not wrote it. This was another joyful piece. I love how you described the church and how it was filled with joy on that day, the way you felt churches were meant to be (I agree). As it is 4:40 am and I am trying to be quiet as a mouse I cannot play the saw music but plan on playing it later. Great slice!

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    1. I am so glad you enjoyed the piece! And, yes, everything about saw playing is so joyful because it’s so unpretentious and quirky. Natalia says saw playing did begin as traditional music since it was often the only instrument available. There is also a long tradition of saw players playing church music. You can play on any saw if you have the willpower and strength, but most experienced saw players use a device called a musical saw. Some, of course, are purists and continue to use just a real saw. Maybe I am an onion, after all.

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  2. Amazing! I’ve seen individuals play the saw on TV, but I’ve never experienced it in person, or hear a massed saw orchestra. Where does one even find a teacher?

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    1. I hope you get on Natalia’s website where you will find links to her and others playing the saw. She is a “busker” in the NYC subway system! Most saw players are self-taught, believe it or not. If you really need a demo or desire a teacher, you can always contact my daughter through my email:
      BarbaraSut@aol.com. Glad you liked it.

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  3. I can only imagine the concert in that church. I must have been awe-inspiring! Such interesting bits are learned through these snippets of life.

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  4. Well, I’ll be. I never even knew there was such a thing! How cool! And to learn your own daughter is a player herself. Wow! This is one of the neatest things I’ve read in a long time. Very cool.

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