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Master violin maker Peter Prier dies at 73

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SALT LAKE CITY — His violins, violas, cellos and basses are played by some of the world’s best musicians. And Monday, as word of his death began to spread, calls of condolence began coming into the Violin Making School of America in Salt Lake City, where the master established an international reputation.

Peter Paul Prier, who established the school as a reflection of a lifelong love of music, died Sunday from complications of Guillain-Barre syndrome, a disorder affecting the peripheral nervous system. He was 73.

"I've been getting calls from around the world," said his son Daniel Prier, who was in the Salt Lake shop Monday. "Every time I talk to them, I cry," he said, noting that he came to the shop Monday because, like his father, he would rather be at work in the shop than "dwell on the sadness" of losing his mentor.

"This is my career, passion," he said. "I grew up in this (the world of violin making, the shop)."

Charles Woolf, director of the Violin Making School of America, has known Peter Prier for more than 30 years. Woolf was one of his students in the 1980s.

“He was always youthful,” Woolf said. “That his passion for violin making kept him young, and I think almost all of his waking thoughts were about violin making, how to become better in the world of violin making.”

While Woolf was a student, he said Peter Prier had strict standards for crafting a violin.

“He was able to communicate to the students in a way that was encouraging and inspiring, and so you’d often walk away from a talk with Peter that maybe started out as a critique and then you just felt empowered,” Woolf said. “He had that quality.”

Born in 1942 in Schlesian, Germany, Peter Prier spent just three years there. In advance of the Soviet occupation of East Germany following World War II, his mother took the three children west to Bavaria.

He attended a music school in Munich at age 13, but left after becoming homesick. His oft-told story noted that as he returned home on the train to southern Bavaria, he turned on a transistor radio and liestened to a program about a violin-making school in Mittenwald. He spent about four years at the school, learning the craft.

In 1960, after graduating from the school, he immigrated to the United States to work at Pearce Music Company in Salt Lake City. He met his wife Kay that same year.

From 1961 to 1964, he played with the Utah Symphony.

In 1965, Prier opened a violin shop in Salt Lake City and seven years later, started his violin-making school on the corner of 200 South and 300 East in Downtown Salt Lake City.

In a 1995 LDS Church News profile, he explained his passion for the craft:

"The instrument has to look good, it has to be artistically made and the crown of it all is the sound," he said. "If you can come close in those three areas, within 90 percent of perfection, you have achieved quite a bit."

Prior to his retirement in 2006, Peter Prier was in his shop just about everyday, "except Sundays,” said his son, reflective of the faith he loved and the service he rendered. He was working in the shop, making instruments, selling instruments and appraising instruments until April 2014 when he was called to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

He and his wife served in the Salt Lake Stake working with local ward leaders and the full-time missionaries for the church in the area. He spread the gospel message in both word and song, playing the violin at meetings and firesides.

He was hospitalized at the end of April and he and his wife were released from their mission in May.

Peter Prier had sold the school to Woolf, his woodworking instructor and a star graduate (class of 1991), who carries on the proud tradition.

“I just think that Peter contributed so much to the profession of violin making here in Salt Lake City and in Utah,” Woolf said. “You can talk to any string player and they know Peter and probably bought an instrument from him at some point, or had an instrument in his shop to repair, so he was a very strong presence in the Utah string community, and I think he will be very deeply missed.”

In addition to his son Daniel Prier, Peter Prier is survived by his wife, Kay, his son Martin Prier, daughter Très Prier Hatch, son Paul Prier, daughter Tamara Prier Stewart; daughter Kris Prier Edwards.

Funeral service will be Saturday, at 1 p.m. with a viewing at 11:30 a.m. at the Ensign Peak Ward, 125 E. North Sandrun Road in Salt Lake City.

"He is greatly missed,” his son said. “He is greatly missed."

Contributing: Nkoyo Iyamba

Email: vvo-duc@deseretnews.com