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YouTube star Nora the Piano Cat inspires a concerto

July 23, 2009 |  7:01 pm

A piano-playing cat named Nora took YouTube by storm a few years ago when her owners, married Philadelphia-based artists Burnell Yow! (yes, the exclamation mark is part of his name) and Betsy Alexander, uploaded a video of her performances to the site.

Yow! and Alexander meant simply to share the video with Alexander's students (she teaches piano in addition to her work in music composition and studio art) and with their niece, who lived across the country.  But word spread quickly among the Internet cat meme community; since the original video was uploaded in early 2007, it's received more than 14 million views.  (A second video, dubbed "The Sequel - Better than the original!" was added a few months later and has garnered another 4 million views.)  Nora, a gray tabby, became a star virtually overnight, and her musical stylings were described by the Times of London as "something halfway between Philip Glass and free jazz." 

Earlier this year, Lithuanian conductor Mindaugas Piecaitis caught wind of the phenomenon and decided to compose an orchestral piece to frame Nora's piano playing.  The resulting composition, "Catcerto" (Piecaitis' overly precious title, not ours), premiered at the Klaipeda Concert Hall on June 5.  Video of Nora, the "featured soloist," played on a giant screen behind the Klaipeda Chamber Orchestra during the performance.

Yow! and Alexander insist that Nora's piano playing is not a behavior they've taught her; instead, according to the cat's extensive bio, she simply leapt onto one of Alexander's pianos one day when she was about a year old and never looked back.  Nora appears to prefer one piano (a Yamaha) in particular and high-pitched notes to low-pitched ones.  She particularly enjoys "dueting" with Alexander's students, according to the couple. 

As further proof that Nora chooses to play the piano out of pure enjoyment, Yow! and Alexander note that their other cats (they have six in total, all named for artists; Nora is named for Surrealist painter Leonora Carrington) shun the instrument, save for an occasional walk across the keys. 

Bonus rags-to-riches element to Nora's story: she was adopted from a New Jersey shelter as a kitten. 

Below, the YouTube videos that started it all:

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-- Lindsay Barnett

1st video: sanmartinfields via YouTube
2nd, 3rd videos: burnellyow via YouTube

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