David Maas plays the saw. Musical saws.
He holds a saw between his knees, and with his left thumb bends it, to vary the tension along the blade.
In his right hand is a well-rosined violin bow, which he rubs along the back of the saw blade, seeking the notes.
The bigger the bend in the blade, the lower the pitch of the note.
The tune of Danny Boy fills the room. It's an eerie sound, almost breathy, with the notes sliding into each other.
Lots of vibrato, and emotion inferred by changes in volume.
''Maori music sounds fabulous played on the saw,'' says Maas, who is also a music teacher, a cornet and trumpet player, and a piano tuner.
''It suits the sound range, you get that coming from under-the-earth feeling.''
Maas will play three musical saws - bass, tenor and his own personally designed and built piccolo saw - at the Manawatunes Celtic Harmony concert in Palmerston North on September 16.
The audience can expect She Walked Through the Fair, the theme song from The Last of the Mohicans, Danny Boy and The Rose of Tralee.
Musical saws have been around for generations, but saw musicians are not common today.
''I get older people telling me that their great-uncles played the saws... I haven't found anyone else local who does. I started a few years back when I heard them being played.''
Maas thinks playing the saws may have been a logging camp skill, with lonely bush nights enlivened with whatever fun people could make for themselves.
The saws are still part of certain styles of American country music; bowed, tapped with mallets or waggled to produce that distinctive metal boinnnn-nng.
Now they're mostly party-trick instruments, but Maas has found ways to play mainstream songs on them.
His bass and tenor musical saws are about 36 inches and 28 inches long in the blade, and came from the United States.
He's modified them extensively to improve their sound, and in doing so, discovered what he wanted in a musical saw.
He now makes piccolo saws, about 22 inches long, with a note range of about two-and-a-half octaves.
He doesn't bother putting teeth on them; the teeth on a musical saw are purely decorative and Maas says they detract from the purity of the note as the metal vibrates.
Notes can only be produced on the ''sweet spot'' on the edge of the saw; Maas's commercial saws' sweet spots are about two inches long.
His piccolo saws have a much longer sweet spot, meaning more notes can be produced, because he carefully shapes the edge of the steel from thick to thin along the blade's length.
He uses hard woods such as Australian jarrah or African rosewood for the handles, so the vibrations don't get soaked up.
Making them is a hobby, but he's selling increasing numbers of them online, to saw players in the US, Italy, Australia and Denmark. His website musicalsaws.co.nz is generating interest among the world's saw players.
Maas says he mentally sings the notes he wants when he plays the saws.
''I don't have perfect pitch, but I'm hearing the notes I want to produce in my mind, and my hands move to make the bow produce them.''
His main instrument is the cornet. He joined the navy aged 19, to be a musician, and he and wife Rebecca (who plays tuba) transferred to the Army and its band after about a year and a half.
After his military service, back home near Bulls, he used to play with the Air Force Band, but that band has been disbanded.
''I'm one of the guys who plays the Last Post at the dawn service on Anzac Day, or at funerals for veterans,'' he says.
''That's a challenge for you. Dawn on an April morning, usually wet and cold, and the ceremonial aspect means you can't huff into the instrument to warm it up before you start.
"Brass is better played warmed up, you hear the notes changing as you play otherwise.'
The Celtic Harmony concert will also feature Ceol Manawatu, piper Cameron McKean, the Manawatunes male chorus and their sister choir, the Manawatu Overtones. Speirs Centre, September 16, 2pm.
- © Fairfax NZ News
Which is the best band?Related story: (See story)