What is its history?
No one knows with any certainty who first had
the novel idea of producing a musical note with a saw. Perhaps the most
comprehensive history was penned by Jim Leonard in his book
Scratch My Back--A Pictorial History of the Musical Saw and How to Play
It (Kaleidoscope Press 1989). In his research Mr. Leonard encountered
claims that it began with 19th-century roots in the Ozark Mountains of the
U.S.; others stated the Appalachians; and still others suggested Scandinavian
or South American woodcutters, African slaves, and so on. I doubt that credit
(or blame) should fall on the shoulders of any one of these places. It's
most probable that the idea's origin was multicentric --originating in multiple
regions of the globe simultaneously-- which makes sense considering the fact
that saws had been available in most parts of the world. In addition, it's
likely that the first note to be heard was accidental, as a worker tossed
or dropped a saw, or another tool happened to strike it. Even a saw waved
rapidly and playfully back and forth in the air like a sword can produce
an audible note, which a budding saw-musician might have noticed and set
out to tame.
But regardless of the origin, there can be
no doubt that it's popularity soared in the early 20th century thanks to
a trio of musicians from the Ozarks, the Weaver Brothers and Elviry, who
used the saw in their popular vaudeville act, touring the U.S. and Europe.
By chance their act was seen by Clarence Mussehl, and in 1921
Mussehl & Westphal,the world's
first professional musical saw company, was established. According to Jim
Leonard's book, sales of 30,000 musical saws per year were common in the
1920's and 1930's at the peak of the saw's popularity. Then came the Depression,
and sales plummeted to virtually none. Then shortage of steel during World
War II finally forced the company to close its doors, but fortunately it
reopened in the mid-1950's and continues selling musical saws today. In addition,
other companies manufacture musical saws, such as
Charlie Blacklock Saws in California, Sandvik in Sweden, Parkstone in England, Feldmann in Germany, as well as the toothless blade, la lame sonore, in France.