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Secrets behind the amazing piano-playing cat

She’s the latest YouTube sensation: Nora, the musical feline who plays the piano like a Cat-erewski. And on Wednesday she proved she’s not a fake or a fluke by doing it on live TV. “This is her own thing; it’s not a trick,” said her piano-instructor owner, Betsy Alexander.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

She’s the latest YouTube sensation: Nora, the musical feline who plays the piano like a Cat-erewski. And Wednesday she proved her success is not a fake and not a fluke.

The rescue cat with a musical ear began putting paws to the 88s after watching her piano-instructor owner, Betsy Alexander, ply her trade. And after finding Nora’s musical inclinations undeniably cute, Betsy did what most any self-respecting pet owner would do: She captured the moment and posted it on the Web.

Some 17 million hits later, Nora is a certified sensation — she’s been featured on VH1, Conan O'Brien, Tyra Banks, Ellen and Martha Stewart. The Piano Cat has received well-wishes from the Piano Man himself, Billy Joel. She also has her own DVD, picture book and poster, not to mention her own Web site, on which she blogs (albeit with a ghostwriter channeling her thoughts).

Live at lastBut after so much success, on Wednesday came a test that has tripped up many a gifted pianist — the pressure of live performance. Nora found herself booked on live TV (her previous performances have all been taped by Alexander and her husband, Burnell Yow). Would it be a cat-astrophe?

As it turned out, Nora didn’t disappoint. After Yow placed her on a piano bench, the feline wonder got up on her hind legs and struck a few tentative notes.

Alexander held her heart and breathed a noticeable sigh of relief. “As a stage mother here, I’m feeling greatly relieved, because I really didn’t know if she would [play],” she admitted via satellite from the family home in Philadelphia.

Alexander told TODAY’s Matt Lauer and Natalie Morales that she was especially pleased to show the world that Nora’s piano-playing comes organically — it’s not some studio trick they use to capture Nora on video and then post on the Internet.

“This is her own thing; it’s not a trick,” she said. “It’s not something we taught her. She plays when we’re not in the room; she plays when we’re in the room; sometimes she plays when we don’t want her to play. I can be teaching a child or an adult who is trying to concentrate and then Nora hops on the bench.”

Piano prodigyNora showed piano proclivity ever since the family adopted her as a kitten in 2004. Alexander was amused when Nora would begin dancing in circles on top of the piano when she was playing, and soon began pounding out her own sweet music. (Alexander has side-by-side pianos in the family home for her piano lessons, and Nora often sits and plays duets with her loving owner.)

Still, it’s a cynical world we live in, and Morales noted some of the more suspicious may believe Alexander laces the piano keys with catnip to prompt her performances. Alexander was aghast at the insinuation, and then revealed a dirty little secret — like some other famous, tortured musical artists, Nora has a bit of a substance abuse problem.

“Look, if I put catnip on those keys, Nora would be rolling her entire body on the keys, because she’s like a total catnip addict,” Alexander explained. “She would be rolling around on there, then she would lay on the bench and roll around and then she would lick all the catnip off her body.

“Of course I wouldn’t do that!” she added.

Meantime, Nora herself was oblivious to the fuss, seemingly transfixed by her own reflection in the black veneer of the piano. Lauer used it as an opportunity to tease his vacationing TODAY co-host, Meredith Vieira. “She can’t take her eyes off herself — it’s like Meredith, actually,” Lauer said with a laugh.

Now, it’s upward and onward for Nora’s skyrocketing career. Next up is a recently finished book, “How to Live the Purr-fect Life (And Make Every Day a Catnip Day),” which Alexander says is Nora’s “philosophy on why she’s so happy and why she is such a talented cat and how you too can be talented and happy in your life.”

Sounds like a cat who has the world by the tail.