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.
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!