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Family recalls Peters' sweet success

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Mitchell Peters in his orchestral tuxedo, ca. 1990.2 / 2

Video courtesy Michaela Woods

Renowned percussionist and educator Mitchell Peters died Oct. 28, 2017. He was 82 years old.

Formerly of Red Wing, Peters went on to have a successful career as an orchestral percussionist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. He joined the company as a co-principal percussionist in 1969 and retired as its principal timpanist in 2006.

Peters graduated from Red Wing Central High School in 1952 and attended the Eastman School of Music where he earned his bachelor and master's degrees. Shortly after joining the LA Philharmonic, he worked as the applied percussion teacher at California State University Los Angeles. He later accepted the position of professor of percussion at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Early in his teaching career, Peters was challenged by the lack of sheet music available for developing percussionists, so he began writing music and founded his own publishing company specializing in percussion works.

"He really expanded the repertoire for solo percussion, especially for that time," said percussionist and lead band teacher for Red Wing High School Dan Marrs.

Mitchell Peters in his orchestral tuxedo, ca. 1990."I played some of his pieces in college. He excelled at writing the études that both teach a specific technique and can also be played solo."

Marrs added that Peters' popular song "Yellow After the Rain," a solo marimba piece for four mallets, was played in competition by a RWHS student as recently as last year.

Peters began his classical music career as a lackluster clarinetist in the RWHS band, but all that changed one day when his teacher asked him to fill in on percussion. In that moment Peters knew what he would do for the rest of his life: pursue music.

He was honored by his induction to the RWHS Hall of Fame in the 1990s, but was unable to attend the ceremony in-person due to touring commitments with the LA Philharmonic.

"It's not an exaggeration to say that Mitch Peters was among the dozen best timpanists in the world," said James Touchi-Peters, conductor emeritus of the Minnesota Philharmonic Orchestra and Peters' cousin. "Having someone like that in my family, who had succeeded in music, made all the difference in the world to me as far as becoming a professional musician."

Peters was a lifelong musician who, remarkably, never lost an audition. The only non-musical job he ever had was working in his family's cafe in downtown Red Wing.

"Peters' Palace of Sweets was the main hangout for high schoolers at that time," said Mary Foley, Peters' cousin and a Red Wing resident. "It was your typical 'Happy Days' scenario."

Peters' Palace of Sweets, located at 204 Bush St., was one of two successful regional businesses run by brothers Thomas (Mitchell's father), Nick, Bill and Jovan Peters and Todi and Martin Kristo. Some of the family's names were changed after immigrating to America from Albania.

Peters worked as a soda jerk at this cultural mainstay, which opened in the 1920s and closed in 1968 after his father's death. Peters was twice married and twice divorced and is survived by his daughter, Michelle Peters Feinstein (Harley) of Encinitas, Calif., his son, Mitchell Peters II (Lauren) of Winters, Calif., and two children from his first marriage, Karen Peters of Austin, Texas, and John Peters of Los Angeles, Calif., as well as three grandchildren (Sarah, Andrew and Lucas) and one great-grandchild (Callie).

His work can be heard on a number of famous recordings, such as the opening theme for ABC's "World News Tonight," in the movie "2010: The Year We Make Contact" and the original "Battlestar Galactica" television series, as well as many albums with the Eastman Wind Ensemble led by famed conductor Frederick Fennell.