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In Memoriam: Peter Kyvelos

In Memoriam: Peter Kyvelos

November 2, 1943 – April 2, 2017

by R.M. Mottola

Originally published in American Lutherie #130, 2017

Luthier Peter Kyvelos, one of the foremost experts on the Middle Eastern oud, died on April 2, 2017, after a series of illnesses. He grew up in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, during the ’40s and ’50s. He credits his early interest in woodworking and other craft to his parents, who involved him in home repair and craft projects from an early age. He attended San Francisco State University, majoring in fine art and graduating with a BFA degree. He studied woodworking in college and completed his first oud in a woodworking class. He graduated in 1970 and moved back to Massachusetts to open his shop, Unique Strings, in Belmont in 1971. In over forty years he built hundreds of ouds by hand, using primarily hand building methods. As is often the case with luthiers that dedicate themselves to one particular instrument, Peter’s intense study of the oud resulted in worldwide recognition as the expert of that instrument. It also earned him a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2001.

Photo by R.M. Mottola

I spent considerable time with Peter in his shop over the course of the two years I collected information for the two part American Lutherie article, “Constructing the Middle Eastern Oud with Peter Kyvelos,” that appeared in AL#94 and AL#95 in 2008. His shop was something of a clubhouse for the many Middle Eastern musicians that lived in the area. He sold and repaired both bowed and plucked instruments, but it was oud building that was his real passion. The highly prized ouds Peter Kyvelos built were of his own design, a design which was influenced by those makers he considered to be the best of the historical builders. He now has joined their ranks.