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Nora is a pretty, grey tabby, female cat whose mother was a stray. Born in 2004, Nora ended up in a pet shelter in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, USA until one day, as luck would have it, Betsy Alexander and her husband Burnell Yow! passed by to see who was new at the shelter, as they did from time to time. Noticing Nora playing on her own rather than with the other kittens, Betsy picked her up and the two seemed to hit it off straight away. It was decided they would like to take her home to join their five other cats, and so when the formalities had been completed she joined the household.
There were a few 'fireworks' at first, as not all the residents welcomed the newcomer, but eventually things settled down and the others seemed to realise that Nora wanted to be left alone. Betsy is a piano teacher, so Nora (named from Leonora Carrington, a British-born surrealist artist) soon became used to music students coming and going. She loved to climb into their music bags and be carried around, and in turn they liked her, brought friends to see her and posed for photos with her. The music room has two grand pianos side by side; Nora seemed to like especially the sound of the Yamaha, which was quite new, and enjoyed sitting under it while it was being played. Another favourite pastime was, and still is, chasing her own reflection on the piano's shiny lid, while a very favourite toy is a yellow feather on the end of a string tied to a plastic wand.
One day when she was about a year old, Nora seems to have decided to have a go at piano playing herself. She had carefully watched the students as they practised, so she knew what to do; she jumped up on the piano stool and put her paws on the keys, which made a pleasing sound. Betsy and Burnell were amazed. The other cats didn't seem at all interested, apart from Gabby, an older cat who used to like walking on the keys. She became jealous, and cat treats were needed in order to keep the peace and stop her from attacking Nora!
Before long Nora was playing nearly every day, keeping her preference for the Yamaha and playing the other piano only when the Yamaha was in use by someone else. She also seems to have a distinct preference for the higher register rather than the lower notes. After a time she even played duets with some of the students! Someone suggested it would be a good idea if Burnell made a video of her playing, which could then be posted on YouTube so that all their friends could see her too it was an instant hit, and that was the start of Nora's fame.
Since then other videos have been made although apparently she doesn't like being filmed and the cameras have to be operated remotely and Nora became something of a celebrity, with fans in many countries. She featured in TV shows, has various items of merchandise for people to buy and even received a card from fellow pianist Billy Joel! She can be followed at Facebook, Twitter/X, Instagram and YouTube. Millions of people have watched her videos (a DVD of a selection was released), there have been several books and of course she has her own website, Nora the Piano Cat, where you can find out much more about this remarkable feline and see a couple of delightful slide shows of the younger Nora before she became famous.
In 2009 Lithuanian conductor Mindaugas Piecaitis heard about the cat and decided to compose an orchestral piece to frame her piano playing. The resulting 4-minute composition, CATcerto, premiered at the Klaipeda Concert Hall in Lithuania on 5 June with video of Nora, the 'featured soloist,' playing on a giant screen behind the Klaipeda Chamber Orchestra during the performance. It can be seen at Nora's website, at Piecaitis' CATcerto pages (where there is more information about the project), or at YouTube. In 2010 the piece was recognised by Guinness World Records as being the earliest piano concerto for a cat.
The Westchester Feline Club of New York state, apart from holding a prestigious annual cat show, has for some years now named its choice of 'Cat of the Year'. The first one so named was Scarlett, for her courage in rescuing her five kittens from a blazing building. From 2009 each Cat of the Year will be awarded a 'Scarlett Ribbon' in memory and honour of Scarlett, who died in 2008.
The first Ribbon and 2009 award were made at the cat show in White Plains, NY, to Nora, the piano-playing feline from Philadelphia, in recognition of her unique feline musical talent. The presentation was made on 21 November to Betsy Alexander, Nora's 'mom', by Karen Wellen, Scarlett's owner and carer. A highlight, after the award had been presented, was to see, via a webcam, Nora sitting at the piano at her home and tinkling the ivories.
In September 2023 Nora celebrated her 19th birthday. She wasn't playing the piano much any more, though, as she suffers from arthritis.
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