National Endowment for the Arts Statement on the Death of Peter Kyvelos, 2001 NEA National Heritage Fellow

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Peter Kyvelos 2001. Photo by Tom Pich

Peter Kyvelos 2001. Photo by Tom Pich

It is with great sadness that the National Endowment for the Arts acknowledges the death of Peter Kyvelos, an oud maker from Bedford, Massachusetts, and recipient of a 2001 NEA National Heritage Fellowship, the nation’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts.

Kyvelos made and repaired stringed instruments for over 30 years, and his shop in Belmont, Massachusetts, is considered to be the epicenter of instrument-making by Greek, Armenian and Middle Eastern musicians around the United States. He built over 175 ouds, a member of the lute family, over the course of his career. His interest in instrument-making was sparked by his fascination with the music. As a youngster, he tried to play the Greek music performed by his father, an avocational woodworker. During his college years, he embarked on a serious study of the structure of the instruments. He began making and repairing them, even though he was still performing in clubs in California to earn his way through school. When he returned home to Massachusetts, he set up his shop called Unique Strings, not far from Watertown, known as "Little Armenia." His work was featured in the critically-acclaimed Keepers of Tradition exhibition at the National Heritage Museum in Lexington, Massachusetts, in 2008 as well as in the book by the same name by Massachusetts state folklorist Maggie Holtzberg.

In an interview with Kathy Neustadt for the Folk Arts & Heritage Program at the Massachusetts Cultural Council, Kyvelos said, “But the most exciting thing, of course, is when you’ve created an instrument and strung it up and it goes into the hands of a professional, and then you see that professional sitting up on a stage playing your instrument. There’s a certain amount of pride that you get; nobody has to say anything – I don’t even want people asking whether I made it – that’s not it. What matters is between me, the instrument, and the person playing.”

For more information about Peter Kyvelos, visit arts.gov.

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