Lets start a movement for musical saw lessons for all…Learning to play music not only brings joy but it also develops the brain. It has been proved that children who learn to play music have an easier time with mathematics and other school assignments. Playing music also helps slow down dementia in older folks. So, instead of using saws to cut down and destroy trees with, use them to make music!
Natalia plays a musical instrument most people think of as a carpenter’s tool associated with blood-baths and deforestation… Her performance venues range from Carnegie Hall, Madison Square Gardens & Lincoln Center, to busking in the NYC subway. Her playing is on many movie soundtracks such as HBO’s ‘The Jinx’, ‘Time Out of Mind’ with Richard Gere, Fox Searchlight’s ‘Another Earth’, ‘Dummy’ with Adrien Brody, etc.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Ididn’t have a usual childhood. My parents’ work moved us to a different country every few years, and I loved it. It taught me first-hand about different cultures and therefore different points of view. I think it is because of this that thinking outside of the box comes naturally to me, like seeing a carpenter’s handsaw and thinking “cool — a musical instrument”!
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
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? I was “climbing the walls” trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life, but nothing I tried filled the void that the inability to dance left in my soul.
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 a country where this film was made. While there we attended a show for tourists. One of the acts was… 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 the 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 backstage 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 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’.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
So many interesting stories… but if I have to pick only one, I’ll tell you one of the many incidents that happened to me when I played the musical saw in the NYC subway:
While playing at the Times Square subway station, a blind man joined a group of passers-by gathered around me. The blind man’s face lit up to the sound of my music. It was clear he loved it. A lady from the crowd, unrelated to the blind man, saw his joy. She came over to me, bought one of my CDs, went over to the blind man, put the CD in his hand and said, ‘This is the music you are hearing now. This is for you,’ and she gave it to the blind man! For me, to think that in a small way, my music was the impetus for such an amazing, selfless, beautiful act of kindness between two strangers — priceless!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I developed a dramatic playing style that draws from dance moves and involves extending the bow-holding arm up to make a dramatic visual. One time I was doing a live radio interview and when they asked me to play, I performed full out, arm movements and all. There was a ceiling fan above me and it had a cord hanging from it (for switching the fan on and off). Just as I did my famous arm extension, the cord happened to be directly above my arm and my bow got caught onto it. The turning fan whisked my bow out of my hand and took it for a ride around and around… There was no way I could continue playing. Luckily it happened at the end of a musical phrase, so the radio engineer ended the song there. He had to go into commercial then, in order to allow us all to burst out laughing. The listeners at home had no idea what just happened. I always checked the distance between me and objects around me before starting to play, but now I learned to also check what is ABOVE me…
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
My favorite thing to do is play on movie soundtracks. These days there is a trend for film directors to use music libraries instead of hiring a composer, so I am developing an online platform at MusicalSawMusic.com that specializes in musical saw tracks geared to function as music cues in films. Over time I hope to fill it with cues of different styles. The idea is that film directors could browse the different tracks, download and license their choice music in an automated system on the website.
Another fun project I am currently working on is short music videos that showcase my playing. The common theme of the films is the exploration of death. My first film was featured on PIX11 TV (and is now on my Youtube channel) and my 2nd film will be screened at the Astoria Film Festival this year.
I am also writing short ghost stories for children, which if turned into a play or TV show, will be conducive for musical saw soundtracks.
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
From the point of view of the viewers, I think it is important to have diversity in film & TV because it would mirror life and therefore be more easily related to. From the point of view of the film/TV companies, diversity in movies means an appeal to a larger audience. So I think diversity in the film industry is a no-brainer win-win situation. We live in such a global culture that I cannot imagine no diversity in the entertainment world.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
When I started teaching myself to play the musical saw I wished there could be a teacher I could ask questions of. I wished someone would tell me how to hold the bow (one can hold it in the middle or at the tip, and one can hold it as a violinist does or as one holds a knife when cutting a steak), how to bend the blade (there is a very shallow ‘S’ curve one needs to achieve), how much rosin to use (beginners always use a “ton” of rosin, whereas once you know how to play you actually don’t need much rosin at all), what music would sound good on the saw (too many back and forth interval jumps may sound comical, and repetitive long notes that sound good when a singer sings them with lyrics may not work so well on the saw) and how to play without portamento (constantly sliding from note to note in order to find where the note is on the blade can render the melody unrecognizable). As it turns out, not having someone tell me these things forced me to invent my own technique, which today sets my sound apart from that of other sawists. Back then I searched for a teacher but couldn’t find any. There was not much online then either, in fact my website was the first website dedicated to the musical saw. So sometimes not being told what to do can lead to good things!
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Find the most ergonomic way for you to play — constantly bending steel to one side (as one does when playing musical saw) is damaging to the spine. Find a blade thickness that doesn’t tire you out after a couple of hours of non-stop playing. Also, a tip-handle helps save one’s hand from abuse.
To prevent burn out, diversify your gigs. On my calendar one day I give a concert with an orchestra at a concert hall, the next I play at a Coney Island sideshow, the next at a cemetery and the next in the subway. Never a dull moment when you constantly change locations and work partners.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Musical saw lessons for all. Violins, flutes, pianos etc., are expensive and many cannot afford them. But saws — many people already have them in their toolboxes, and they are readily available at hardware stores for less than $100. Learning to play music not only brings joy but it also develops the brain. It has been proved that children who learn to play music have an easier time with mathematics and other school assignments. Playing music also helps slow down dementia in older folks. So, instead of using saws to cut down and destroy trees with, use them to make music!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I am grateful to the NYC subway riders and to the MTA’s Music Under NY program (which schedules performers in the subway). I have learned so much from busking in the subway, got to meet people I would have never had a way of meeting otherwise, and I received so many gigs from people seeing me in the subway. For example, thanks to people who saw me playing in the subway I was hired to play on movie soundtracks: director Oren Moverman saw me playing at Grand Central Station and took my card. He knew then and there that someday he would like to use me in a movie. Years later he had me play for a scene in ‘Time Out of Mind’ where Richard Gere wonders around Grand Central Station. Film director Mike Cahill saw me playing at the Union Square subway and wrote a scene for his movie ‘Another Earth’ inspired by my playing. It turned out to be the pivotal scene of the movie. I got to not only play on the soundtrack but also to coach actor William Mapother to act as if he were playing the saw in the scene.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I have a life lesson quote I made up: if you stay home — then 100% nothing will happen. But if you go out — then only 50% that nothing will happen. So many musicians stay home waiting for a phone call from their agent to arrive with an invitation to perform. One could wait a long time for this phone call… But if you go outside and start playing, anywhere — in a park, on the street, in the subway — for one thing, you are creating a performance opportunity for yourself right then and there, and for another — who knows who might be walking by, see you play and invite you to a gig? I got so many TV commercial spots, concerts, and film work from playing in the subway. So instead of practicing your music at home, why not practice it outside? All you have to do is go outside.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I would love to meet Barbra Streisand because I need to thank her for something she has no idea she ever did — for saving my life. When I was 15 years old my family was the only Jewish family within miles. At school, there was a girl named Rosalind who hated me just for being Jewish. My family was never even religious, but every day at school Rosalind would find ways to torment me: she and her friends would ambush me in the corridor and say horrible things to me and try to start a fight in the hope that I would hit them and then they could complain to the school principal about me. Or Rosalind would spill water on my painting at art class, or spill water on her own painting and tell the teacher it was I who did it. Needless to say she made my life miserable. One day after school she and her friends ambushed me on the way to the bus home. They surrounded me, saying horrible things, pushing and shoving me. It was the worst they have ever been. Rosalind was saying things such as “No-one Jewish ever did anything good. There are no famous Jewish people, no actors, singers!”. At that moment some random guy happened to pass by and he overheard what Rosalind was saying. “Yes there is”, he said, and without stopping his walk he said, “Barbra Streisand is Jewish”. And he was gone. Rosalind and her friends stopped dead. “What? But we love Barbra Streisand… she is great!” they said. Apparently they didn’t realize this singer they loved was Jewish… I seized the opportunity that they were looking at one another in confusion and I bolted down the street. The bus happened to arrive at the station at that moment, I boarded it and escaped to safety. That was the last time Rosalind and her friends have ever bothered me. From that moment onward they stayed out of my way. Ms Streisand has received many awards for her fantastic artistic achievements. But having her name as a weapon against antisemitism — priceless. If it happened to me it might have also happened to others, and for this, I wish to thank her.
How can our readers follow you online?
IG — @TheSawLady https://www.instagram.com/thesawlady
Facebook — @SawLady https://www.facebook.com/SawLady
Twitter — @SawLady https://twitter.com/SawLady
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!