Today on the blog, a guest post by Cathy Petch — playwright, spoken word artist, haiku deathmaster and musical saw player for The Silver Hearts. Cathy has several handsome chapbooks and most recently published her poetry book Late Night Knife Fights with LyricalMyrical Press. Her work has also appeared in Descant, The Toronto Quarterly and Joypuke. Cathy is part of The Dildettes, a queer spoken word/comedy troupe along with Regie Cabico and David Bateman, and was a member of the 2011 and 2012 Toronto Poetry Slam Teams. She is happiest onstage.
So I play a musical saw during some of my poetry pieces.
A musical saw: literally a handsaw played with a bow. The sound has been called “ghost-like,” “eerie” and “like that other weird instrument,” a.k.a. the theremin.
Both the theremin and the musical saw are often mistaken for novelty instruments, and though I’m currently wracking my brain to say what a “novelty instrument” is, in reality I have appreciation for anything that can make a sound or a beat, no matter if it’s for your toddler or the London Philharmonic.
The saw is a heart-breaker of an instrument. Sometimes when I’m playing a solo — (I play in a band, The Silver Hearts) — my soul seems to dance down the tines. It becomes my tears, my love and all the sweet things I’ve ever heard whispered in my ear. Like any instrument, it is an extension of emotion. It is poetry, and it is brain waves and history revisited.
The origins of the musical saw predate World War I. It started in farmers’ kitchens and was said to have started its slow climb to recognition as a classical instrument before the war effort hit. You cannot cut wood with your musical saw, for this ruins the tone. And in a time when every inch of metal was being enlisted for the Great War, for a household to have two saws — one to play, and one to use as, well, a saw — playing the instrument was considered treason. The saw only found its way back through Vaudeville and thank goodness it did.
My first saw was bought at Home Depot. A 26-inch Stanley Sawtooth, it joined my band and travelled all over Canada reminding the world of its beauty. Currently I have a 33-inch Stravaridis from Long and McQuade, as I was determined to play “Un Bel Trombador” from Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly” and lacked the extra octave. At the 10th annual Musical Saw Festival in New York City last year I saw 40 different saw players from all over the world playing 40 different saws in 40 different ways.
Like poetry, most musical saw learning happens in solitude. You must have an ear and a total love for your instrument. When you play it, you use your feet, your legs, your arms, your ears; it is a dance, it is magnificent.
I cannot wait to play some saw poems for you all. See you in September! xo
Cathy Petch visits the Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, September 10, 2014 — full of beans Coffee House & Roastery, 1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto (7pm, PWYC) — along with Nora Gold and Ray Robertson. Come early, too (6:30) for a special talk by Degrassi: The Next Generation writer and producer Matt Huether on getting started in screenwriting!