Clem Richardson writes the City Beat and Great People columns. Prior to joining the Daily News in 1993, he worked for New York Newsday, the Miami Herald, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Atlanta Journal-Consitution and the Anderson Independent newspapers. The Duke University graduate is married and the father of two.

Spotlight on Great People

MTA's lively sound underground
By Clem Richardson
Friday, August 16th, 2002

Program brings music to riders

Natalia Paruz plays the musical saw in a Harlem subway.
Natalia Paruz has a surefire way to make people stop and watch.

There is the ever-present smile, for one, and the oversize, theatrical gestures the Astoria, Queens, woman weaves with her arms while making music for the frenzied crowds dashing through the Herald Square subway station.

And let's not discount her instrument - a 32-inch-long, toothless French saw - and the eerie, otherworldly music Paruz makes with it.

With the wide end of the saw in her lap, the other end gripped in her left hand as she strums the bent saw blade with a cello bow, Paruz makes music that sounds like something out of a 1950s science-fiction movie.

"I had to shave the teeth off after a cop gave me a $150 ticket for carrying a weapon in the subway," Paruz said of the woodcutting tool. "French saws are the best because they're longer."

A former professional dancer who took up the saw after she was struck by a car in 1991, Paruz, 28, is one of 100 acts now enrolled in the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Music Under New York program.

Soft touch in subway

Begun in 1985 and sanctioned by the MTA two years later, the program provides a human touch in the otherwise mechanized, often frenetic world that is the city subway system.

Folks like Paruz and Brooklyn trumpeter Ed Fennell, 75, were both performing in the subway long before it was legal to do so.

Fennel and his 16-man Ninth Street Stompers band used to play on the street.
The band was once profiled in a half-hour program on PBS titled "Diary of a Street Band."
"In the old days, the cops used to confiscate your instrument," Fennel said. "That was the only way to make sure you paid the fine."
Fennel, who despite his arthritic knees still plays in the subways three or four times a week, now performs with one or two other musicians.
"It's something to keep me playing," he said. "But you can't make any money playing down there with those large groups."

Paruz performs alone, playing classical, pop or contemporary music.

Sometimes she plays compositions her husband wrote, accompanied by recorded music, or with her husband, vibraphonist Scott Munson, and cellist Lawrence Zernig.

'Wonderful' audience

Paruz said it's her transient audience that keeps her coming back.

"The people are so wonderful," she said.

"Sometimes people don't have any money, and they leave little notes and cards in the basket telling me how much they enjoyed my playing or telling me something about themselves.

"Once I looked down, and this beautiful little stuffed teddy bear was smiling up at me. I didn't even see when someone put it there."

And appreciative comments are commonplace.

"It's brilliant," said Armand Gosselin, 46, of Montreal.

He and wife Lisette, 41, daughter Lauriane, 12, and twins Amelie and Margalie, 14, had paused to enjoy Paruz's music.

"We have musicians in the Montreal subway, but they are always something familiar, nothing different," said Gosselin, who said most of his relatives are musicians.

"She is very good. This is very special."

How to get on the train

Musicians taking part in the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Music Under New York program perform in 25 locations throughout the city.
Musicians are selected according to diversity - to appeal to the entire MTA ridership - and talent.
Auditions are held once a year before professional musicians. Winners are assigned times and places for performances.
All performance sites are selected by the Transit Authority.
Performers work for tips.
For information and audition applications, call (212) 362-3830.

All contents © 2002 Daily News, L.P.