July 30th, 2008
Musical Saw Festival Held In Astoria
For the past six years, in July, afficionados of the musical saw come out for the annual NYC Musical Saw Festival.
Thirty musical saw players came from as far away as Germany, Canada, Georgia, California, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey and New York to Trinity Lutheran Church in Long Island City. WFMU Radio DJ Bronwyn C said, “[This was] the concert of the summer. The idea of a musical saw backed up by a handbell choir makes the top of my head blow off”.
The festival featured an eclectic mix of sonic sounds. A trio of New York City saw players opened the festival with a hymn accompanied by organist Judy Dimino. The festival’s founder and director, Natalia “Saw Lady” Paruz, presented the educational segment of the festival, featuring the musical saw as an ensemble instrument in Donizetti’s opera “Lucia di Lammermoor”, with singer Ilya Speranza and pianist Arielle Levioff artistic director of the Queens Goliard ensemble, followed by a contemporary piece by Queens composer Scott R. Munson, with Seth Gilman, baritone.
The Trinity Handbell Choir, directed by Richard Walker, joined Paruz in a rendition of Satie’s “Gymnopedie” followed by the world premiere of a piece for musical saw and Japanese music box by composer Scott R. Munson. Paruz played an amplified old music box which played a traditional Japanese koto song, weaving the sound of the musical saw along the decelerating melody of the music box.
A succession of saw players followed, each presenting music of different styles, from classical to blues, gospel, folk, contemporary and avant-guard. The audience got to witness the use of different types of saws, played in different techniques, some with bows or mallets and others using electronic effects. The “Chorus of the Saws”, which featured all 30 saw players playing together, received a standing ovation.
Different artists also treated the audience to an art exhibit featuring many paintings, all depicting the musical saw. Joe Pecknic, a curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, took photos of the exhibited artwork. Of particular interest an oscillating fan blowing air into bottles creating the effect of a mysterious jug band accompanied a video installation by Jamie Isenstine, featuring a headless magician playing the saw. A clown and vaudevillian act also played saws.
The festival, which was made possible in part by the Queens Council on the Arts with public funding from the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, concluded with a workshop. New Jersey saw player Gregory Newton said, “Because the saw is mostly a self-taught instrument, an occasion like this is one of the only ways many of us see how other people play and negotiate some of the playing challenges. It’s fun and instructive to see how others approach the same situations differently, but successfully.” Bob Heliger, also from New Jersey, said, “The festival was both entertaining and inspiring. What a wonderful atmosphere. The church really expressed the beauty of the saw as a musical instrument.” Associated Press TV filmed the festival for worldwide broadcast.