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Constructing the Middle Eastern Oud, Part One

Constructing the Middle Eastern Oud with Peter Kyvelos, Part One

by R.M. Mottola

previously published in American Lutherie #94, 2008

See also,
“Constructing the Middle Eastern Oud, with Peter Kyvelos Part Twoby R.M. Mottola

Here in the USA, interest in ethnic music of all sorts has seen an increase in recent years. Probably driven by immigration from many parts of the world and by the rise of so-called world music, this increased popularity manifests itself for us in an increased interest in the stringed instruments used in various ethnic musical styles. For instance, we’ve seen much interest lately in the oud, also commonly spelled ud or ’ud.

Starting off with absolutely no knowledge of a subject (as I did with this one), it is probably always a wise first step to consult the experts. Of course, with no knowledge of the subject, even the process of identifying subject-matter expertise is a problem, but I’ve always found that persistent and wide ranging investigation into just who the experts are is a fruitful approach. Eventually it becomes obvious that the same handful of names come up again and again in these queries. During the process of identifying those individuals most likely to be experts on the subject of the oud, it was both unusual and interesting that only one name came up repeatedly. Whether I asked musicians, luthiers, or academics, in this country or in the Middle East, the person that was universally regarded as the foremost expert on the oud was Peter Kyvelos. Working out of his shop Unique Strings in Belmont, Massachusetts, Peter Kyvelos has built close to 200 ouds and other Middle Eastern instruments. The shop, located in a section that is home to many Armenian and other Middle Eastern immigrants, also repairs pretty much all stringed instruments, plucked and bowed, domestic and foreign. But Middle Eastern instruments have been the focus of the shop and of the lutherie of Peter Kyvelos for the last thirty-five years. This dedication has earned Peter the reputation as the expert in this field. It has also earned him a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2001.

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