Sunday, 28 March 2010

Playing the saw

Leni is in search of gefilte fish for Passover. I suggest an outing to Golders Green – a good excuse to see an unfamiliar bit of London. She asks if it’s on a tube line, and the words of a song come into my head:

Finchley Central 
is two and sixpence 
to Golders Green on the Northern Line. 
On the platform
by the kiosk 
there you said you’d be mine…

I only know this song because my older brother Patrick (who died too young) used to sing it. Where does it come from? YouTube directs me to The New Vaudeville Band. These 70s musicians playing their banjos and trombones with 20s-style slicked down hair and moustaches remind me of Patrick playing the saw, and I recognize the influence.

To play the saw, you need a tradition panel saw and a well-rosined violin bow. Grip the handle of the saw between the knees, sharp edge towards you, with the blade rising vertically, the tip held in your left hand (or your right, if you’re lefthanded). Applying the downward pressure, bend the saw into an S-curve – so that the blade, as it rises, curves to the left and then back to the vertical. Think of the saw as a cello and start bowing. To change the note, increase or decrease the bend in the saw. It requires the same kind of touch as it takes to get a note by rubbing a wet finger round the rim of a wine glass, or to get a harmonic out of violin string.

To play the saw in public, Patrick wore a dinner jacket and a lofty expression. And in case anyone’s wondering, the song Finchley Central does include instructions to change at Camden Town.

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