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The Utah Symphony lost its longest tenured member Saturday when violinist Kenneth G. Kuchler, who joined the orchestra in 1942, succumbed to congestive heart failure. He was 85.
The symphony hired Kuchler, who was born in Ogden in 1922, as the nation was becoming embroiled in World War II. He interrupted his budding career to spend three years in the U.S. Army, including a stint in Germany, where he was a radio operator and fought in the Battle of the Bulge.
But the orchestra held his spot and Kuchler returned to rehearse and perform until about six weeks before his death. During his tenure, he was a member of the first violin section and associate concertmaster. A lifelong bachelor, his world revolved around music: He taught it while chairing Westminster College's music department and conducted the Wasatch Community Orchestra.
"It was his life from about 6 years old," said his younger brother Ralph, an attorney in Monterey, Calif. "Music was everything."
Kuchler, who attended Weber State College and the University of Utah before earning a graduate degree at the University of California-Berkeley, was a veteran performer when Harold Wolf joined the orchestra in 1952. The two were stand partners during the 14 years Wolf was concertmaster.
"He was an excellent violinist, musician and educator," Wolf said via e-mail. "He had a wonderful dry sense of humor. One time at a particularly strenuous rehearsal, I remarked, 'What a way to make a living,' to which he responded, 'There must be a way to make a living.' That was typical of Kenny. He always made remarks like that with a perfectly straight face."
Friends and colleagues describe him as quiet, private and focused, with yeoman work habits.
"He was a consummate professional and he had an incredible work ethic," said Llewellyn Humphreys, a horn player and the orchestra's personnel manager. The Salt Lake City apartment where he lived for more than 50 years was emblematic of his life.
"It's all music and instruments," Humphreys said.
Doug Wolf, a music professor at the University of Utah and a percussionist who regularly performs with the Utah Symphony, shared a passion with Kuchler for American Indian flute music. Kuchler was involved in transcribing traditional Shoshone music, including lyrics, Wolf said. "He used to tell me writing out the music was the easier part of it all."
Some of his work is included in Newe Hupai, Shoshoni Poetry Songs, published by Utah State University Press, according to Ralph Kuchler.
In a written tribute to his colleague, flutist Erich Graf, president of the musicians union, described Kuchler as "one of the most intensely moral and ethical people I have ever known. He was incapable of saying anything but what he truly believed."
While Kuchler sometimes came off as "gruff," Graf found in him a friend and mentor.
"I will miss this Gentle Lion from the core of my being," Graf wrote.
A celebration of the musician's life is Friday at 2 p.m. at Larkin Mortuary Chapel, 260 E. South Temple.
Kenneth G. Kuchler is shown in Maribor, Slovenia, during the Utah Symphony's European tour in 2005.