Sometimes, some things are meant to be. You find a movie by chance, you love that movie, the story, the music and you write about it. Another Earth. And somewhere, far away from you, there’s a person who reads your story. I met Natalia on twitter and I knew that somehow I needed it because I found her story, one that reminded me of Daisy from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I learned one more time that we need courage to make our stories matter. And Natalia is, maybe, the bravest artist I know.
From dance to the musical saw, what is your art story?
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 had 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…
You performed on both famous and underground scenes. In which instance did you feel more connected to your audience and why?
When I played at Madison Square Garden for 10,000 people, I couldn’t even see the faces of the people sitting far from the stage – it looked like a sea of dots to me. When I play in the New York City subway, a similar number of people walk by me, but I get to see everybody’s faces, and the transformation on their faces as they hear me play. At a concert venue, I’m on stage with lights in my eyes, the audience is down in darkness. It feels a bit as if there is a glass wall between me and the audience – I don’t see them. In the subway there is immediate contact – people come to talk to me, to ask questions and to share their impressions. The music becomes a means for communication, taking people walking down the street and molding them into a living and breathing work of art. Unifying them and connecting us all in a spontaneous magical experience.
When you buy a ticket to a concert, no matter what – you’ve already paid to get in, so you politely clap your hands, and you are pre-conditioned to think what you’re seeing/hearing is good. In the New York streets the people are raw and honest every day. The street doesn’t lie and it’s not going to be polite with you – if you suck, you’ll know it.
For me communication is the most important thing. Music is just my way of communicating. Music is my way of breaking barriers and invisible walls between people, bringing people together, to notice one another, through a collective and spontaneous group experience through the music, in the moment, with me.
How do you define art? Where is the limit between unconventional art and kitsch?
Only time will tell what is true art. Only time will separate the superficial from the truly great. I think the line between unconventional art and kitsch lies in the attitude of the artist.
How are unconventional arts perceived?
Sometimes it’s difficult to break through the barrier of conventionality which seems to reign with art institutions. I am lucky to live in New York, where people are more open-minded and are thirsty for something new. But so many orchestras treat the musical saw with suspicion. They won’t even take a listen, because they have a pre-conception of what it should sound like. Truth is, whenever I do get people who have never heard me play before to take a listen, afterwards they all say the same thing: wow, it doesn’t sound anything like what we imagined it would sound like!. I think in general our society needs to take hold of new ideas. You don’t have to agree with the new ideas, but never ever shy away. Be glad things are changing – if there was no change, there wouldn’t be new memories made.
Is New York an international cultural Mecca?
Definitely. It is a haven for artists, because you get so much stimulation here. Artists are drawn to New York because it is like a microcosmus of the world, and the energy is buzzing. You can see and hear anything from conventional old-world concertos to ethnic arts, to the most avant-guard performance art. The only problem is choosing what you want to see…
Where do you find your inspiration for your cultural projects?
Most of the time I am a musician for hire, which means I take part in other people’s ventures and become immersed in their vision. When I do my own projects, I often get inspiration from visual stimulus, such as a location or a costume. For example, in the fall I hope to start work on a triptych of music-videos. The inspiration for them came from cemeteries and churches I visited. The story line behind the music took inspiration from Victorian costumes. The music is inspired by all of this, and will involve musical saw and bells.
What are your projects for the next year? Tell us about NYC Musical Saw Festival 2015.
The 2015 NYC Musical saw Festival will be the 11th one. Usually about 50 musical saw players from around the world participate, playing solos and in ensembles. Original compositions for the musical saw will be featured, and workshops for people wishing to learn to play the saw are always included. The most anticipated moment of the festival is always the grand finale: all the saw players playing together. This is something that must be experienced live, because you not only hear the immense sound of 50 saws, but you also feel the vibrations, which penetrate the body like a sonic massage. It is important to me to keep the NYC Musical Saw Festival affordable, therefore I keep it at $10 only for admission, which includes a 5 hour long concert, workshops and an art exhibit which centers around the musical saw, of course. The art of playing music on a saw is the art of the people – not everybody can afford to buy a piano or violin, but a saw is something many people have in their tool boxes anyway. You can find more information on the festival at www.MusicalSawFestival.org.
Beside the festival, I am also working with composer Scott Munson who is writing a piece for orchestra & musical saw, and with composer Ady Cohen who wrote a piece for string quartet and musical saw. We hope to interest orchestras and string ensembles in presenting our music. Who knows – perhaps in Romania, too?
How has your contribution in cinematography influenced your artistic life? I love Another Earth, it’s one of those movies where the story, the music and the images make perfect sense. How was the experience?
Playing on movie soundtracks is my favorite thing to do. I love seeing how a scene comes to life through the music. The music in movies brings on the emotions and deepens the action. It’s like magic. You can influence people’s thoughts through it (for example – you hear ominous music so you think: oh, oh, something bad is about to happen).
Since I started to work in film, I started thinking of music in terms of soundtracks, so when I play in the subway for example, I provide the soundtrack to people’s lives.
Another Earth was the funnest movie I worked on because I got to do something I never do: I usually teach people how to play the saw, but in this movie I had to teach William Mapother how to PRETEND to play the saw :). It was interesting to shoot that scene: we shot it in two stages – first we shot William, then we shot Britt separately. The editing makes it seem as if they were both present at the same time, but actually when we filmed William, Britt wasn’t even in the auditorium, and William was looking at me miming to him whether to bend the saw up or down When we shot Britt, I was playing on stage, in order to give her inspiration to emote to. There is an instant in the scene where you see just the saw, from behind – that is me holding it at that moment :).
If you would meet Natalia Paruz from Another Earth, what would you say to her?
Let’s form a musical saw duo and take it on the road!