Our Saw-Playing Friend, Morgan Cowin

Bay Area saw player, Morgan Cowin, has passed away this summer. Morgan was an excellent saw player, photographer, teacher, and friend. He was well-known in the Bay Area folk music community and often gave workshops at folk music festivals. He was the president of the International Musical Saw Association for many years, and won first place at the festival in 1982. Morgan loved to play the saw and he said so often. The current president of the IMSA, Art Peterson says “Morgan was one of the very best saw players in the world.” Morgan worked hard to keep the festival fun. Kenny Blacklock, whose family has sponsored the festival since the beginning, recently wrote,”We would like to recognize Morgan for dedicating many years to leading the International Musical Saw Association. He has done much to promote musical saw playing throughout the world.” Indeed, Morgan was at the festival every year, encouraging new players, teaching workshops, and helping people appreciate the magic of the saw.

Cindy Webster shared this photo of Morgan performing at the 2013 International Musical Saw Festival. Note his box of Bandaids and the earplugs. 


In this short video, you can see Morgan promoting the saw festival in 2007. You can also watch Bay Area legend Jackie Jones ( in the flannel shirt) and prize winning sawyer and festival judge, Cindy Webster, play for a brief bit.


Morgan lived near me, and he gave me a saw lesson about 10 years ago when I first decided I wanted to learn to play. During that lesson, he taught me about bowing, vibrato, and different positions to hold the saw. Morgan was unusual in that he played the saw standing up with a stand he had invented himself, but he emphasized that the trick to being good at the saw was developing a style of your own. He also played Mozart for me on his saw that day, which was a wonderful surprise. I had no idea the saw could make such beautiful music. He followed up our lesson with a generous email detailing every local place to play the saw, tips on playing, and even saw playing etiquette.  He told me that one saw player at a music party is usually enough. The more I have been around saw players the more I realize the truth in this advice. He was always encouraging, and said to me many times, “You can do this!” He was encouraging to everyone, and he was a wonderful teacher and friend.

Thanks to Marty Rayman for the photo!

He played the saw every opportunity he got and played with friends most weekends, at potluck jams. He always said, “The more you play, the better you get!” He took his own advice and played all the time.

Morgan started playing the saw in 1971 after he saw an advertisement in the Whole Earth Catalogue. This video is a great little introduction to what makes a good musical saw, and you can hear some advice from Morgan.


Morgan traveled the world promoting the musical saw and he played with some of the greatest saw players in the world. He traveled with his saws in an electric guitar case and took several different saws with him in his travels, including a beautiful lame sonore, made by Alexis Faucomprez. Here he’s playing a regular saw with teeth in Hong Kong.


He traveled to New York for the 2013 Saw Festival that was organized by Natalia Paruz. She shared these photos and had this to say about Morgan and how he helped her put on the festival:

Morgan was amazing. We sat (Morgan, my husband Scott and myself) until the small hours of the evening preparing signs and programs and I don’t remember what else – whatever needed doing. He helped hand out flyers by the subway station and took turns with some other sawist to play while the other handed the flyers advertising the festival. And he wore a funny saw hat. He was the kindest, sweetest person. Always happy to share in anything. What an honor it is having met him – a real important figure in the musical saw world. Many years he shouldered the job of getting the CA fest on and he edited the Saw Players News which enabled sawists to learn about one another in the days before the internet.”



Here he is with Hajime Sakita.

Many thanks to Hajime for the photo. 


One of the contributions Morgan made to the saw playing community, besides his music and love of saw puns, is a comprehensive handout for how to play the saw. It’s available for free on the International Musical Saw Association website. He gives a lot of good advice. Morgan wasn’t a big fan of vibrato or saw bending devices, otherwise known as cheats. He disliked excessive vibrato because he thought it could prevent a player from developing the ability to hit a note right on pitch, and he also disliked cheats because he felt a player has more control without one. I think he was right about both of these things, although I am guilty both of excessive vibrato and using a cheat.



Morgan had many interests besides music. He was an avid bicycle rider, hiker, sailor, and professional photographer. His dear friends Marty Rayman and Michael Wanger shared these photos and comments.

(You can see more of Marty’s photos at his webpage, Snappy Marty.)


Enjoying the day with his dear biking friends

(Thanks to Stephanie Mccaffrey for sharing this great photo)


“He always wanted to show us something.  Note the backpack, always had much more than would be needed, but it often came in handy!” -Marty Rayman



“He had quite a collection of musical T’s.” – Marty Rayman

One of his beautiful photos


Morgan had health problems the last few years, but his son and family lovingly cared for him at home until the end. We’ll miss you, Morgan.







Rowena Southard, your blog hostess, is a musical saw enthusiast who lives in California. She loves all kinds of music and has a special fondness for unusual instruments.