Sing-song-saw

TOOLS are always acceptable wherever sloyd is encouraged, so for Father's Day the granddaughters, surrogates for their mother, enlarged my holdings by two handsaws, which may be told from hawks by their essential differences. On one of the TV trivia shows not long ago the question was, ``What do the starfish and the amoeba have in common?'' I take pleasure in watching such shows now and then, because I can sit there in the confidence of my own excessive knowledge and if I don't know the answer I don't lose the limousine. I was able to come up with several things the amoeba and the starfish have in common - neither owns property in York, Maine, and neither has antlers like a moose. Also, when the wind was southerly, Hamlet was able to tell a hawk from a handsaw, but there goes John Bartlett to this very day and he thinks a handsaw is a heron.

One of my new handsaws is 26 inches with eight points and the other is 20 inches with 10. Both are crosscuts. When the presentation was made on Father's Day, I held the two new tools in a gesture of appreciation, and as the girls accepted my thanks I said, ``And I know how to play them, too.''

Their expressions betrayed them. They heard what I said, all right, but they (they are three) plainly indicated that by ``play'' I meant I could saw a board. I did not. I was using musical terminology, and although I am not proficient to the extent of making a tune on a handsaw, I can twist one and make it squeal.

My granddaughters had never heard a musical saw and for the moment were unwilling to believe that this carpenter's tool is an improbable instrument that will make any symphony more interesting, and can elevate composers like Brahms and Mozart and MacIver into higher quality. (You may not have heard of Jock MacIver. He lived at Pusey's Corner in the town of Spurchard, and composed music for the clarsach, a sort of harp tuned to nine notes so it can accompany the bagpipe.)

There are many things our high-priced system of education needlessly neglects in the general inculcation of all knowledge. In the collective learning of my granddaughters the musical saw had not been intruded. But I was only in the top grade of grammar school when our teacher invited Quigley Tupper to come in and tell us some of his stories.

Quigley had been everywhere and done everything, and for many years had been on the Chautauqua circuit. He could do magic and gave chalk talks, mostly Bible stories, and could play about any musical instrument. As a one-man band he used to accompany himself while he sang ``Sing-song-city once-a-kimeo.''

In our town everybody knew Quigley and we were proud of him. He was always comical, and we were glad when Miss Dunham told us he was coming. She didn't need to introduce him, so he came into the classroom and took right over. First he asked Russell Baker to come down front and sit on a chair, and the chair was too hot to sit on. Russell jumped from it with a yell, and the fun began.

Quigley asked Nathan Bidger to scoot downstairs to the manual training room and borrow a handsaw from Mr. Jensen, who taught shop. Mr. Jensen felt this was worth his curiosity, so he came back with Nathan and the saw to see what was going on.

Quigley sat on the hot chair which had somehow cooled, and put the handle of the saw between his knees. Then he bent the saw blade and rapped it with his knuckle to make it whine, and he changed the pitch by changing the bend. It was awful. It sounded like that banshee in perdition with its tail caught in the door.

Quigley broke into song, and by nodding his head he divided us and we sang ``Scotland's Burning'' in four parts. Then we did ``Flow Gently Sweet Afton'' and the favorite of the day, ``Keep the Home Fires Burning.''

And Miss Dunham forgot to keep an eye on the clock, so we stayed quite a bit after school-out, and so did Mr. Jensen so he could get his saw back. In this manner we became virtuosos on the musical saw. I think the girls didn't go for it too much, but all the boys did, and we played them every chance we got. My mother told me she didn't mind my becoming a musician, but not to play the thing in the house.

An interesting consequence was the effort of Mr. Jensen. Inspired by Quigley's talent, he began to play the saw. We youngsters would be working quietly in class on our arithmetic and history, and all at once Mr. Jensen would thump his saw downstairs and fetch us right up out of our seats. Miss Dunham would cry ``Oh, oh!'' and cringe. Before school let out for summer vacation, Mr. Jensen was playing well enough so we could tell the tunes, and so were some of us boys.

I gave up music when my father said he thought the noise was causing the hens to lay fewer eggs. But I retain enough for demonstrating, and my granddaughters now know a saw can be played.

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