Monday , 18 January 2021

Get to Know Nora the Piano Playing Cat!


Many are familiar with the musical stylings of Nora, the Piano Playing Cat. Her videos have been popular for years, showing the beautiful cat creating lovely musical melodies all on her own.

Nora’s pet parents are Betsy Alexander and Burnell Yow – otherwise known as her “purrsonal assistants.”  Betsy teaches piano, voice, composition and guitar, and she composes music for theatre.  She also makes jewelry, assemblage art and paintings.  Burnell is also an artist working with multi-media, painting, collage and photography and he plays ukelele and guitar and writes songs.  They live in Philadelphia with 7 cats including Nora.  Betsy is also an avid gardener and enjoys gardening the entire city block where she lives.

Nora was adopted from an animal shelter at the Petsmart in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.  She was found as a kitten along with her siblings on the streets of Camden, New Jersey.  Betsy and Burnell stopped at the Petsmart to get food and Betsy fell in love with Nora who was playing outside of her cage while the cages were being cleaned.  She was just so irresistible and adorable.  When they went to pick her up at the shelter, she was in a cage with an index card that described her as “BOSSY”   Burnell and Betsy were not worried about this at the time, but it turned out that Nora did not get along well with her cat siblings and it took many months of hissing and fighting for them to finally accept that indeed, she was the boss.

PurrfectCatNames: Many know & love the musical stylings of Nora the Piano Playing Cat. But how did she get her start on those piano keys?

Alexander (for Nora): One day we were upstairs and we heard some repeated notes on the piano.  We do have another cat named Gabby who occasionally walks on the keys but this was a distinctly different sound.  We went to the stairs and saw Nora sitting on the piano bench like a little person, playing the keys with her two front paws.  She seemed annoyed that we were interrupting her “practice”  We, of course, were delighted and we began to applaud and make a fuss over her.  She has pretty much been playing every day since then.  We thought it might be a one time kind of thing, but she obviously enjoys it very much.  She even enjoys playing along with the piano students.

PurrfectCatNames: As a kitten was Nora always the curious type? Did she play with things in a clever way, the way she has figured out how to play the piano? If so, can you give us an example?

Alexander (for Nora): Nora was very playful and curious as a kitten.  She often danced in circles on top of the piano when she was little while looking intently at her reflections.  She was always with me when I was teaching when the other cats were upstairs sound asleep.  She has never gotten along with the other cats and does not snuggle with them or groom them or play with them.  But she was always very interested in the various piano students and was always present during their lessons.  After being with us for about a year, she suddenly began playing.  She is a very playful cat and enjoys playing with cat toys that have feathers on the end very much.  She also chases her tail at times and bounces around the house like a kitten even though she is a big 12 pound cat.  By the way, she loves to eat and we have to feed her separately from the other cats or she will eat all of their food too.  In the beginning she did this and ballooned up to 16 pounds.  The only way we can control what she eats is to feed her in a separate room and wait until all of the other cats are done eating.  It amazes us that Gabby weighs only 6 pounds and Nora weighs 12 pounds even though they eat the exactly same amount of food.  Nora looks heavy on camera because of her build.  American shorthairs have short legs and big round bodies.  She is not long and slender like our other 6 cats.  But this may be why she is able to sit at the piano so comfortably.

PurrfectCatNames: How did you adopt or find Nora? Did you name her Nora or was this the name that she came with? If you named her Nora, why did you pick this name?

Alexander (for Nora): All of our cats are named after musicians and artists.  We take turns naming them.  Nora happens to be named after Leonora Carrington, the well-known surrealist painter because we alternate between musicians and artists and it was just the turn for an artist name.  We did not know she was going to grow up to be a famous musician when we adopted her.  In fact, she as a big fan base in Japan and we were told that in Japanese,”nora” means stray.  We were actually informed this was actually not a good name for her in Japan.  We also affectionately call her “nor nor” and all of our cats have little affectionate nicknames.  For example, Gabby who is named after the composer Gabriel Faure, is called Gaboo and Gabino at times.

PurrfectCatNames: Every cat has a favorite treat, and it is so purrfect to give it to them especially when they have done something smart – like play the piano! We can imagine that you give Nora her favorite treat when she plays – what treat does she prefer the most?

Alexander (for Nora): We don’t like to give Nora too many food treats because we worry about her weight.  However, a film crew from Japan was here and they gave her some fish flakes which she absolutely adored.

PurrfectCatNames: We know that Nora likes to play the piano but what other kitty toys or things in the home (that are not actually cat toys) does she play with? Does she have a preference for playing, such as climbing on things or playing with balls to chase?

Alexander (for Nora): She loves toys on strings, especially if they have a feather at the end:  She also likes a simple toy we have that is a wire with some cardboard pieces on the end:

She is also crazy about little mice that have been sitting in a bag with catnip and of course, she loves catnip. She also enjoys climbing to the top of our cat tree and really doesn’t like it when any of the other cats sit on top of her tree.  She also seems to like sitting in sunny window sills and on the kitchen island top when it is sunny.  Sometimes she sleeps on my pillow by my head but more often sleeps next to me or at the end of the bed.

PurrfectCatNames: Have you considered putting out an album of Nora’s songs? If so, what would its possible title be and when could we expect it to come out?

Alexander (for Nora): I do occasionally write music to Nora’s little themes but they are pretty short.  I don’t think we could actually make an album of her playing.

PurrfectCatNames: Have you ever had a cat or kitten curious about the piano the way Nora is? Why do you think she’s decided to play the piano?

Alexander (for Nora): None of our other cats is interested in the piano although they do seem to be aware that Nora is getting special attention for something.  People ask me all the time if I can teach their cats to play but obviously, if I could teach a cat to play piano, all 7 of our cats would be playing.  An animal behaviorist who spent the day with Nora told us that Nora is a sort of genius cat.  The term copy cat comes from the fact that cats can learn by observing.  But Nora seems to have made some kind of substantial leap in reasoning.  She has always been very obsessed with Betsy much more so than Burnell.  Apparently she somehow figured out that the reason my piano students were getting all of my attention had to do with the fact that they were pressing the piano keys and making sounds, so she decided to try it and it worked.  She got my attention.  We have an electric keyboard up in our computer room that only makes sound if it is turned on.  Once Nora sat down at it and tried to play it then quickly hopped down when it made no sound.  So she recognized that it was a keyboard.  She has never tried to play it again.  She seems to learn very quickly.  We fed her for the first time upstairs in the bathroom.  The next day she ran up to the bathroom when we got the food out.  That’s pretty smart.

PurrfectCatNames: What is Nora like to spend time with?

Alexander (for Nora): Nora is very soft, probably the softest of all of our cats.  And she has an adorable belly.  She looks a lot like a seal when she is lounging around because of her chunky build.  We call her our baby seal all the time.  However, she does not enjoy being held, being snuggled or being petted.  She often lays down next to me on the bed.  But if I begin to pet her, she just gets up and moves away out of arms reach.  She frequently nips at my piano students if they try to pet her and I have to warn them all the time that she is not a friendly cat.  But right now, as I am sitting here typing, she is sitting on the chair next to me.  She actually follows me around the house like a dog but she does not want to be fussed over.  In fact, the easiest time I have petting her and fussing over her is when she is sitting at the piano.  That is also when she purrs the loudest.  You can practically hear her from across the room when she is playing or on the bench.

Visit to discover Betsy Alexander and Burnell Yow’s music!
If you love Nora, visit her site to watch all of her videos. There are also fun Nora themed t-shirts, calendars, cards, journals, pins and more available.

Nora fans also won’t want to miss visiting, to listen to a wonderful orchestra piece which was composed around Nora’s piano improvisations. The piece has been performed by orchestras around the world, and the video has millions of views. Well-known conductor and children’s music educator Mindaugas Piecaitis composed this amazing piece when visiting the U.S.A. for the first time 2 summers ago and had the opportunity to meet Nora in person. According to Alexander, Nora loved meeting him and was pretty affectionate with him!

Thank you Nora, Betsy Alexander and Burnell Yow for spending time with us today at PurrfectCatNames. We’ve enjoyed getting to know Nora and look forward to hearing her lovely music!

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One comment

  1. Thank you so much for the wonderful interview with my purrsonal assistant, Betsy Alexander. And that’s my favorite photo of me and Betsy.

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