Natalia “Saw Lady” Paruz has been hosting the festival in Queens since 2002. She explained that she first experienced the saw in a European tourist show, and fell in love with the instrument ever since. She explained that saw players used non-electric hand saws and a bow to play the instrument. After playing for 20 years, she hasn’t cut herself yet.
“I saw someone else performing, which is how many people first experience the saw, it’s something that you come across,” Paruz said. “It’s not something your mother would send you to school for.”
During the first festival, there was a total of five saw players. This past weekend, the number of performers had expanded to 59, with many coming far and wide to celebrate their passion with others in the community. Paruz is extremely insistent on saw players of all levels to come out and take part in the community.
“Every festival is open to all players, it’s important to me that people do not feel as if it is a competition but rather enjoy it all,” she said.
The festival actually came about through a comical situation. Years ago, a saw player from California wanted to visit Paruz and perform together. Unsure about meeting a complete stranger alone, she invited a few of her saw-playing friends and hosted them all in her home. Saw players from Canada, Japan and India proceeded to contact her over the next couple of years and again she hosted the visitors and her friends in her home.
Soon enough, invited saw players brought along guests and her house grew too cramped for everyone. With interest in the music growing, the group called for a space that could reach the public.
“I don’t know why but everyone unanimously voted for me to be in charge of running the festival,” Paruz said. “I was unsure of it first, but after a saw player from India contacted me I decided it was time to open it up to the public.”
The festival was first held at the Astoria Historical Society but due to a surge in audience attendance, the festival moved to the Greek Cultural Center and later to the Trinity Lutheran Church, where it has stayed over the past few years. If you’ve never heard the sounds of the musical saw before, it’s an beautifully eerie sound. For those interested in learning how to play the saw, there were workshops held after the festival to teach people about the basics of the saw.
This past weekend, people from all walks of life performed in front of hundreds. In attendance was the oldest musical saw player, 95-year-old Gerald Eccleston played the song “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus” alongside Christopher Bradshaw on the piano.
The honored guest was Emma Kelly, who traveled from Australia to perform “Nature Boy” with Sam King on guitar. Paruz herself performed a few times, once with the Trinity Handbell Choir.
For one song, she held a successful experiment for the first time on her first try. Paruz removed singers from the Astoria choir and replaced them with saws.
“People always say that the musical saw sounds like a soprano opera singer,” she said. “If this instrument is so vocal and sounds so human, what would happen in we took a choir and told the sopranos to go home and replace them with musical saw?”
There are bigger things to come for saw players. Paruz said actor Richard Gere’s upcoming film “Time Out of Mind” will feature the musical saw during a scene mid-movie where his character, a homeless man, walks through Grand Central Station. Astoria resident composer and producer Scott Munson composed the original score featuring Paruz.