Meet Natalia Paruz
Affectionately known as the 'Saw Lady', Natalia has spent two decades bringing the rare art form of playing music on a carpenter's saw to audiences around the world. Natalia revives the almost forgotten art of making music with a carpenter’s handsaw. Started about 300 years ago by lumberjacks, this art form became almost extinct after WWII.
Her musical saw can be heard on movie soundtracks such as HBO’s ‘The Jinx’, ‘Time Out of Mind’ with Richard Gere, Fox Searchlight’s ‘Another Earth’, ‘Dummy’ with Adrian Brody, etc. Live performances include concerts with orchestras such as the Israel Philharmonic conducted by Zubin Mehta, PDQ Bach concerts, the Westchester Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Air Moroccan Symphony Orchestra, Riverside Orchestra, Amor Artis Orchestra, Manhattan Chamber Orchestra etc., at such places as Carnegie Hall, Madison Square Garden and Lincoln Center.
But her favorite performance venue is… the NYC subway!
In Natalia's words
I was a professional dancer. I was a trainee with the Martha Graham Dance Company of Contemporary Dance, I was a tap-dance teacher and demonstrator for Dance Masters and Dance Educators of America, I earned a living performing in musical theater - in short, I was a happy dancer - until… One day, on my way home from Lincoln Center, I crossed the street and was hit by a speeding taxi-cab. This was the end of my dance career. I suffered permanent damage to my upper spine.
Needless to say, I was devastated. I have dedicated my life to dance, and now what was I going to do?
To cheer me up, my parents took me on a trip to Austria. You see, as a kid I loved the movie ‘The Sound of Music’. I watched it 14 times! So, my parents took me to the country where this film was made. While there we attended a show for tourists. One of the acts was… you guessed it - a musical saw player!
Now I have never seen nor heard of a musical saw before. This was totally new to me, and it blew me away. I thought the sound was phenomenal – spiritual, angelic and different from any sound I heard before, but what really appealed to me was the visual – not the fact that it is a tool, but the fact that the whole instrument moved and the sawist’s upper body along with it. It was like a dance! The musical saw is one of very few instruments where the entire instrument moves (unlike a violin for example, where only the bow moves but the body of the violin never changes shape) and changes shape constantly as you play it.
I went back stage to talk with the sawist. I asked him to give me lessons. His answer was a flat and resounding ‘No’. Of course I said I would pay him, and asked how much he wanted, but he just told me that I didn’t need a teacher. “Pick up a hand saw, hold it the way you have seen me do on stage, and you’ll figure it out” was his instruction. As a “bonus hint” he told me that the more expensive a saw I get - the better it would sound.
Armed with these instructions I borrow an old saw from someone. It was rusty from time and woodwork, so it only had 6 notes left on it.
A trip to the local hardware store was an interesting experience. The owner was furious about the “whistling” that somebody was doing in his store… He was very puzzled when he saw where the sound was coming from, but let me continue to test all his saws when he realized I was going to purchase an expensive saw…
Indeed the Austrian sawist was right. I did figure it out all on my own, and I am very grateful to him now, for having given me the satisfaction of being able to say that ‘I did it all on my own’. I never thought of making a career out of playing the saw. It was just a hobby. But when God shut the door of the dance world on me, he made sure to open the musical saw world window for me and usher me in…"
Which achievement are you most proud of?
I organized the Guinness World Record of the ‘Largest Musical Saw Ensemble’ with 53 musical saw players from around the world.
This is the 11th year I am organizing the NYC Musical Saw Festival which I founded. There were 4 other saw players beside myself at the first festival and today there are thousands of saw players around the world. The festival inspired not only people to learn to play the instrument but also composers to write for it, poets to mention the instrument in their poetry and painters to depict the instrument in paintings, thus ensuring that the art form is not going to disappear again.
I am also proud of my work as a busker, educating the masses to understand that people who play music in public spaces do so not because they have to, but because they want to: busking is an art form all of its own. My work has been depicted in 17 published books including ‘Music in American Life - An Encyclopedia of the Songs, Styles, Stars, and Stories That Shaped Our Culture’.
Unbuttoned with Natalia Paruz
Style icon: Marlene Dietrich
Favorite heroine: my mother
Dream lunch date: Jesus (because we’ll never run out of wine ☺
Favorite cliché: Every cloud has a silver lining
Personal motto: If we want to better ourselves, then application, diligence and cheerful persistence pays off.
Idea that changed your life: playing music on a carpenter’s handsaw
Always trying to improve: my vocabulary
Most inspired by: BBC costume dramas
Favorite piece in your wardrobe: Tripp Goth pants with lots of spikes – they stopped manufacturing those ☹
Biggest extravagance: a glass harp
Irrational fear of: California – on account of earth-quakes
Brains or beauty: brains
Audrey or Katharine Hepburn: Audrey
Diamonds or pearls: diamonds
The Saw Lady doing her thing in the NYC subway