Three Essays On The Fundamentals Of Piano-Playing Cat

If you've been following Caturday videos for awhile, you probably remember Nora, the piano-playing cat. Nora, named after the surrealist artist Leonora Carrington, started playing piano when she was one year old. She is a grey tabby who lives with an artist and a musician and six more feline friends, all of whom are named after artists and musicians. Out of the entire group of cats, Nora was the only one who took up the piano: teaching herself to play through careful observation and imitation of the music students who arrived for their lessons.

In this video update, Nora, who was four years old at the time, gives her first piano recital, which was captured on video:

Even though Caturday videos are meant to reconnect us with other sentient beings and to give us a smile (sometimes, desperately needed), I think Nora's videos are fascinating. I am very curious to learn more about what they suggest about this particular cat's mental and musical capacities: does Nora appreciate music? Is Nora seeking attention from her humans by imitating their behaviour? If so, why choose to imitate piano playing instead of myriad other daily activities that her humans no doubt have? Does Nora's choice of which behaviour to emulate have something to do with the intensive one-on-one training that she sees the students getting? Why don't any of the other cats in the household imitate piano-playing? Do the other household cats imitate any other of their humans' behaviours? If not, why is Nora so different? What is it about Nora's neurological make-up and brain biochemistry that makes her special, that allows her to imitate her human in this particular way?

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Reading Robert Duke's newly published collection of essays is like witnessing a lecture by this influential music educator: energetic, thought-provoking, incisive and down-to-earth.... [T]eachers will benefit immediately from his applications to the studio and classroom of the "expansive, rich body of data that illuminates the processes of knowledge acquisition and skill development." Duke's educational beliefs and prejudices are well-supported throughout the collection. He believes a music lesson can, and should, be as carefully planned as a military maneuver with goals clearly identified, strategy precisely outlined and tactics minutely executed. He then proceeds to describe those goals, strategies and tactics in as distinct and disciplined a manner as he would expect of any teacher under his guidance. As the supervisor of a piano class program for many years, I found myself nodding my head in agreement throughout the book. His essays on "Sequencing Instruction" and "Transfer" alone make this book essential reading for my graduate assistants and pedagogy classes. But to enjoy the essays like individual dishes on a buffet obscures what I believe is the book's fundamental ritornello: remember that what you're teaching is not necessarily what the student is learning.... At times Duke's reach exceeds his grasp, but there is so much complex and vital information that he clearly does grasp, that musician-teachers of every type will find this book a "must-read." --American Music Teacher Magazine

We often hear the statement, "Teaching is an art," and I agree that it is, but often the statement is a cop-out for one's inability to identify the components of artful teaching that make for effective learning. If you want to know what those components are and begin to improve your teaching effectiveness and your students progress immediately, then Intelligent Music Teaching...is the place to begin.... Bob Duke has identified the components of effective music teaching in a way that is understandable, thought-provoking, research-based and useful in a variety of music teaching settings. --American Suzuki Journal

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