“I’ve done the research,” says Dorothy McPherson-Donell. “I’m the only one who sings on a dancing horse.”
Billing herself as the Soprano on a Dancing Horse, Donell performs at rodeos, county fairs, private parties on ranches and, of course, horse shows. Her repertoire runs the gamut, from patriotic tunes to classical selections, Broadway songs, pop and grand opera.
“I really love the patriotic songs,” she said. “I’m an entertainer at heart.”
But it wasn’t always like that.
“In high school, I was so shy I couldn’t even sing in the choir,” she remembers. “I wanted to get up in front of an audience, but I just couldn’t.”
Today, the bigger the crowd, the better. Equipped with a wireless headset microphone and clad in stunning costumes, she rides her trained Friesian, Hy-Glori, who dances, rears, bows and does other tricks while she sings.
She has been doing this professionally for 10 years, working out of an 8-acre spread on the outskirts of Scotts Valley, although singing and horses have been her twin loves since childhood.
“When I was 3, I wanted to sing, and when I was 4, I wanted horses,” she said. “I thought of this when I would go to horse shows.”
Donell owns four horses, a newborn colt and one of her mares will deliver a foal any day now. She soon also will board a friend’s camel to train it.
Donell said she performs about twice a month, usually out of state and sometimes in Canada, but the economy has shrunk her schedule to about one job a month.
Many event organizers, she said, have found it less expensive to have some high school student come to sing the national anthem.
As a young woman, Donell studied business at several San Jose community colleges and trained horses and sang on the side.
“I was going to go to Juilliard (the pre-eminent music school in New York), but then I met my husband.”
Her husband, the late Scotts Valley dentist Charles McPherson III, encouraged her and built some of the buildings at her ranch to accommodate her performances. He died three years ago, “and it’s not the same,” she said.
She has studied with numerous voice teachers and coaches in the U.S. and Europe, and continues studies with Eddie Sayegh, an internationally known Los Angeles vocal teacher.
Donell also sings — sans horse — with Uptown Singers, a professional group of six Bay Area vocalists.
Her next act? She hopes to join the circus — really.
“There was a small circus that wanted to hire me, but they weren’t set up to take care of my horses,” she said.
More recently, however, she has her eye on Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey and has developed a useful contact at the nation’s biggest and best-known circus.
“You know the lady on the last elephant in the final act, the one who waves to the crowd? I want to be her, singing to the crowd,” she confided. “I’ve got to do something big. It’s just in me.”
At a glance
ON YOUTUBE Dorothy McPherson-Donell performs on her trick horse, Hy-Glori, at www.youtube.com/watch?v=NtQklRG0K7w
ON THE WEB: www.openingceremonies.com
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