Music & Performing Arts

Music & Performing Arts

Interview with Natalia Paruz, Musician

When did you first discover the musical saw and what was it about the instrument that captivated you?

I was a professional dancer, but one day coming back from Lincoln Center, I was hit by a car. That put an end to my dance career. I was devastated. I searched for an alternate career, but nothing I tried filled the void the lack of dance left in my spirit. To cheer me up, my parents took me to Europe. We went to a show for tourists and part of it was a guy playing a saw, and for the first time since the accident I felt excited about something. It was as if providence pointed its finger to tell me what I was meant to do in life.

I fell in love with the angelic tone of the saw, but more than that, with the fact that the whole instrument moves when played (unlike other bowed instruments where only the bow moves and the instrument itself remains stationary). It was like a dance!

Since there was no musical saw teacher to be found, I taught myself, through trial & error (no internet tutorials back then either) how to play. At first I only thought of it as a hobby, but an invitation from a local Salvation Army Center (which heard about my playing from a neighbor of mine who could hear me practicing) changed that. They recommended me to another place, I played there and they recommended me to another, and so it continued. When my phone kept ringing with invitations to perform, I realized that I could turn this into a career.

 

Please describe the route or process you took to hone your skills and master your craft.

Practice makes perfect – there’s no going around that. Nowadays I usually practice at least 3 days a week, anywhere from 3 to 6 hours at a time. What I do differently from most musicians, is that I practice in front of an audience! That makes a world of difference. Of course when I learn a new piece I first practice it at home, but once I’ve memorized the piece, I take it out on the street. Most musicians sit at home waiting for the next gig. I also wait for the next gig, but I don’t wait at home – I go busking (street performing). Busking was the smartest thing I ever got myself into. When you play on the street, you get 1) free rehearsal space 2) you gain experience in front of an audience (and you get to try new material and see how people respond to it) 3) you learn to play through anything (useful when mishaps happen on stage and the show must go on) 4) you are in a perpetual audition – you never know who might walk by you and invite you to a gig. I got so many gigs this way, that since I started busking I never needed to go on auditions! Film directors, composers, conductors, recording engineers, theater producers, etc. all happened upon me playing in the NYC subway and as a consequence, invited me to perform. If you sit at home waiting for the phone to ring – the chances of something happening are small. But if you go out on the street, you augment your chances of something happening by a lot.

 

With an instrument as rare as the musical saw, was it difficult to get noticed? What did you do to promote your work?

As with anything, there are pluses and minuses to playing an unusual musical instrument. The plus is that you have less competition, but the big minus is that there isn’t much need for your instrument, and most people don’t even know of the instrument. So one has to mostly invent their own opportunities. Approaching venues, orchestras, etc., to interest them in potentially hiring you is much easier when one plays a known instrument. The biggest obstacle I continue to face is that people don’t want to give a chance to something they are not familiar with. When I say that I play a saw, so many people don’t even want to give it a listen, because they IMAGINE it sounds like a log being sawed in half… Of course once I get them to be willing to listen, they all say it doesn’t sound anything like they imagined, and then they like it, but getting people to the point of giving it a first listen is more difficult than if I played say a violin or a flute.

That is again where busking comes in handy. I get to educate people through it, because I bring my art to the people, where people are, and acquaint them with it. When I started busking 17 years ago, nobody in NYC seemed to know what a musical saw is. Now, I hear people passing by me explain what it is I’m playing to their friends – I succeeded in familiarizing people with my instrument.

 

Can you describe your process of composing a musical piece?

I don’t compose. I enjoy interpreting other people’s music and I work to educate composers about my instrument, so that there will be more music written for it. I think it is important for the survival of the instrument to have its own repertoire.

 

How do you market yourself? What marketing efforts have been the most effective?

In today’s world, when people are constantly bombarded with entertainment options everywhere and competition between performers is huge, marketing is unavoidable. What does it matter how great you are, if no-one knows you exist? You could have the coolest video on Youtube, but if you don’t market it, no one would know to watch it.

I spend a lot of time on Facebook and Twitter, promoting my YouTube videos – that’s how I got my ‘Star Trek’ video to have more than 346,000 hits.

Also, when I busk, I hand out cards, have an e-mail signing list and I display a QR code which gives people a FREE MP3 and gives me their e-mail address. I usually only send one marketing e-mail a year… I should send more, but I don’t seem to get around to it somehow…

Also – whenever possible I wear a t-shirt that says www.SawLady.com on it. The reason why I do that is because so many people videotape and photograph me without my permission. It used to upset me because I felt that they were stealing from me – instead of buying my CDs or my downloads, they were capturing my music in low quality. But then I figured that if I have my website on my t-shirt, then at least when they show the video or photo they took of me to their friends, they’ll have an advertisement for my website in it.

 

An advanced degree isn't required to become a successful musician. What role has a formal education had in your career? 

I didn’t study music in university. But then, there is no university that teaches musical saw playing… I learned to play the recorder, piano and guitar in elementary school and I sang in choirs. That taught me how to read sheet music, and that is vital. I had the best of training as a dancer, which turned out beneficial to me as a musician later on, because it taught me to be musical, to know how to relate to music, and I also incorporate dance arm movements to my playing, which gives me a playing style unlike that of any other musical saw player.

I must confess I am extremely lucky – my mother was a concert pianist, so through her and her colleagues, though completely informal, I got the best musical education as a kid.

A formal education is always helpful (a diploma perhaps might have helped me gain an entry to certain institutions) but if one doesn’t have it, it’s no reason not to pursue one’s dream!

 

What does the future hold for you as a musician? Is there anything you want to accomplish that you haven’t?

I have chosen this life, and it has been immeasurable kind to me. My dream is to establish the art of playing music on a carpenter’s handsaw further – I’d like to open a Musical Saw Museum/research center/school. I’d also like to bring this art form into colleges and music conservatories.

 

What advice would you give to someone following in your footsteps? What should a young artist know before they pursue a career in music?

Being a professional musician takes a lot of hard work – you have to be willing to put in many hours of practice a day, deal with fierce competition, put in lots of time and energy into promotion and into initiating performance opportunities for yourself. Some people love the music making part, but not the business part. I have friends who chose to pursue music as a hobby, despite the fact that they have tremendous talent, because they don’t want the hassle. There is nothing wrong with that! They get to enjoy what they love while not having to worry about making money with it. If, however, you have a burning ambition to make music your profession, then application, diligence, and cheerful persistence is the path to success.

  • Kathryn Pomroy
    Kathryn Pomroy

    Journalist, Artist & Lover of Puppies | Kathryn is a writing junkie and coffee aficionado who attended Arizona State University where she earned a blue belt in Shotokan-ryu Karate, graced the local stage as a ballerina, and graduated with honors with a degree in journalism.