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Meet the Maker: Norman Pickering

Meet the Maker: Norman Pickering

by N.P., with Barbara Goldowsky

previously published in American Lutherie #95, 2008

Norman Pickering does not understand the concept of retirement. He celebrated his ninety-second birthday on July 9, 2008, and he is still immersed in studying the properties of violin, viola, and cello bows. This is a logical follow-up to his lifelong study of the acoustics of bowed instruments, as a player, maker, and scientist.

Though musical acoustics is his overriding passion, there have been lengthy, but fascinating detours along the way into fields as various as medical ultrasound, aircraft instrument design, and his most famous invention, the Pickering phonograph tonearm and cartridge.

Rather than trying to condense his multiple careers and achievements into a question-and-answer interview, Norman agreed to share his life story — so far — in an essay he wrote after moving to our current home in East Hampton. I think AL readers will enjoy it. With characteristic modesty, he calls it simply “Biography.”

— Barbara Goldowsky

I was born in 1916 in a small fishing and farming town where both sides of my family had lived for at least three generations. Just at that time it was on the way to being submerged in the borough of Brooklyn by development and road building. By the time I was seven years old it was no longer the integrated semi-isolated village my parents and grandparents had known.

My mother’s family were farmers and my father and his father were engineers. My future education was decreed almost from birth: I would follow my father’s plan for me. And so I did; after a happy and successful time in grammar and high school, I entered Newark College of Engineering and finished in 1936, a few weeks before my twentieth birthday. I enjoyed engineering, but found that my interest in music was much too strong to be ignored.

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