She tucked the wider end of the saw between her knees, and with her left hand held the narrow, bendable end. Bowing with her right hand, she coaxed out a pitch that she controlled by bending and twisting the blade, at times jiggling it to create an expressive trembling vibrato.
Ms. Paruz, who would not give her age, played with an exalted smile and seemed to finish every phrase with an flourishing upward sweep of the bow, ending in a brief pose like a crowd-pleasing rock guitarist.
“Well, it is heavy metal, when you think about it,” she said jokingly, about the saw blade.
A hot-pink banner hung overhead announcing her as Natalia (Saw Lady) Paruz, embedding the nickname she has officially trademarked.
Ms. Paruz, who also plays in the Times Square and Union Square subway stations, knows hundreds of songs, from classical pieces to children’s tunes, but favors romantic selections that are soothing to harried commuters.
Having a concert pianist as a mother and a metallurgist as a father, she said, made finding her calling playing the saw the inevitable “interim between them.”
As a teenager training with the Martha Graham Company, Ms. Paruz said, her dream of becoming a dancer ended when a taxi hit her in Manhattan. While rehabilitating, she heard a saw being played in a revue performance, she recalled, and saw an alternative career beckoning her “from providence.”
She borrowed a rusty saw from her landlady and began teaching herself, scouting out local hardware stores for better instruments.
During breaks from her job selling souvenirs at a Broadway theater, she practiced in a parking lot. But one day she was handed a $5 tip, which helped persuade her to move to the sidewalk to play for theater crowds. The tips poured in and she quickly quit her theater job and started playing for crowds in Times Square.
“I’m a lazy Libra,” she said. “If I were practicing at home, I’d be taking breaks. But playing for crowds kept me from stopping, so I owe the pedestrians of New York for my good technique.”
The cold weather moved her into the subway, where she has remained busking for the past 20 years. She has become arguably the best-known saw player in New York, and has found her way into numerous write-ups, movie soundtracks, radio programs, television segments and music festivals.
She has played with top orchestras, even under the baton of the conductor Zubin Mehta, and has performed at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and Madison Square Garden. “Those halls have great acoustics,” Ms. Paruz said. “But I tell you, the subway has better acoustics for the saw.”
The Remington rifle carrying case she uses to ferry her saw has, it should come as no surprise, provoked attention from the authorities. Some airport security officials have told her to step away from the case, while others have recognized her from the subway and waved her through. Some police…