Lisa Dondlinger has always felt at home on the stage. One of her earliest memories was a solo vocal performance of “You Light Up My Life” at a preschool holiday show when she was 4 years old. “I remember it was so snowy in our Iowa cabin,” she says, “but I made [my mother] drive me to that Christmas program.”
Dondlinger found her true talent—playing the violin—by the fourth grade. Later, she pursued a master’s degree in music at Indiana University. As a professional musician, she’s played in house bands for American Idol and Dancing With the Stars, and on movie scores such as Life of Pi. Today, in addition to recording for TV and film, her main gig is performing at Caesars Palace in Celine Dion’s show.
Being adopted, Dondlinger has often wondered about her musical gift. “Neither of my parents are musicians. Everything I’m doing is a surprise to them,” she says.
“There’s always that question of nature versus nurture. It’s been a very interesting path of discovery to find out what, for me, was learned and what was inborn. The musical gene is definitely inborn.”
To add credence to her theory, now Dondlinger sees the musician in her 4-year-old son, Tristan. “He’s got a good musical ear, loves to sing and is starting to show an inclination toward percussion,” she says.
Dondlinger’s other passion is touring with her own band, Quattro (visit quattrosound.com for a listen), to which she contributes both her vocals and violin talents. Quattro’s sound—a fusion of Latin pop, jazz and classical music—is shown on their debut album, Popzzical, a collection of upbeat signature songs and modern renditions of classics such as Antonio Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.” Popzzical was nominated for a Latin Grammy award in 2013.
When not onstage, Dondlinger loves Vegas-style fun, such as hitting the dance floor and scoping out the dining scene. “In the Celine group we have a little foodie club,” she says. “We research [restaurants] ahead of time and try different spots around town together, from Scarpetta to Lotus of Siam.”
What does the natural-born performer love most about being in Celine’s show? “We’re always onstage, always featured, always moving around,” she says. “Celine’s orchestra is definitely part of the show more than most string players would be. I love that.”