Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Like a Grammy for the Piano Cat

She gets Valentines from sock monkeys, date requests from Moscow, unsolicited signed photos from Billy Joel and concertos written in her honor.

She gets Valentines from sock monkeys, date requests from Moscow, unsolicited signed photos from Billy Joel and concertos written in her honor.

Yet, this Philadelphia lady still eats on the floor.

Nora the Piano Cat, a YouTube piano-playing sensation whose first video has drawn more than 15.7 million hits, will add another trophy to her wall when she accepts the Cat of the Year Award from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in New York City tomorrow.

"Nora may not be a traditional hero, she hasn't saved any lives, but she is an amazing representation of what's in shelters today," said Jo Sullivan, executive vice president of external affairs for the ASPCA. "This is not a damaged animal. She's an amazing and dedicated creator."

Nora was rescued in Camden and adopted from a shelter in Cherry Hill by her "roadies," Betsy Alexander and Burnell Yow of Center City.

Alexander said Nora learned to play the piano by observing her and by watching her give lessons. An animal behaviorist posited that Nora wanted the attention Alexander was giving to her students.

"I didn't teach her. If I could, wouldn't all seven of my cats be playing?" she said. "What a hit that would be on YouTube."

When Nora first started playing, Alexander said she tried to research cats and pianos but found nothing.

"I took her to the vet and said 'She's playing the piano. What do you think?' " Alexander said. "They said, 'We don't know.' "

Nora plays sitting upright on the piano bench and uses only her front paws to hit the keys. Her music is scattered, like jazz, and staccato like broken thought.

She can feel the vibration of the piano strings in her paws, she purrs while she plays and she thrives on applause.

This year, a composer from Lithuania, Mindaugas Piecaitis, created an orchestral piece built to be played with edited clips of Nora's solo work. The piece debuted in June and already 17 orchestras are planning to perform the "CATcerto," Alexander said.

Alexander and Yow first put the video up on YouTube to share it with her niece in Wyoming. That day, it got 71 views.

"I said who are these 70 other people and why are they looking at this?" Alexander said.

When the video hit 100,000 views, the media barrage began.

Nora's been on "Today" and CNN, the Martha Stewart and Tyra Banks shows and has been featured in the pages of People and inTouch magazines.

"She has more Facebook friends than Burnell and I have together," Alexander said.

People from around the world have stopped by the house on their visits to Philadelphia just to meet Nora.

Sullivan, of the ASPCA, said every year three to four million animals are euthanized because of a lack of resources. She said she hopes shelter animals like Nora encourage animal adoption.

"Any one of the stories we tell could have been one of those animals that was euthanized because of lack of space," Sullivan said. "We do these awards to thank the people who've taken shelter pets and to show the rest of America what kind of pet a shelter animal can make for you."

Other awards to be presented tomorrow include Dog of the Year, Kid of the Year and Law Enforcement Officer of the Year. None of the other recipients are local residents.