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DYAO Alumni Blog
Chapter 1: Mackenzie Gault

By Matt Yuknas
DYAO Alum, oboe

As musician and DYAO alum, I am extremely excited to kick off our new alumni blog with someone who has had a large influence on not only me personally, but young musicians throughout the world. Many aspiring musicians desire a life of rock and roll fame, however, the more traditional path for us classical musicians is that of the concert hall. What if you were to break the mold of a typical classical musician? Our featured DYAO alumni, Mackenzie Gault, did just that. Acting as pioneer for viola, Gault went on to join the now famous rock/hip-hop group, Flobots.

Flobots_highres_2In 2007 the Flobots released their debut major label album, Fight With Tools. From this album came the hit single “Handlebars”, co-written by Gault. The single went on to have huge mainstream success, becoming a staple in alternative rock music. Jumpstarting the group into international fame.

A few weeks ago I met with Mackenzie to discuss her experiences in DYAO and how it has shaped/impacted her life both personally and professionally.

How did you get started playing the viola? What drew you to it?

  • “Originally I played violin, but later switched to the viola in middle school. I found that there were many more opportunities to perform and be heard with viola as opposed to the 60 other kids playing violin. From that moment on I was in love with the viola.”

What is your favorite experience performing on tour with the Flobots?

  • “There are actually two favorite performances. Our first big gig was at a festival in Arizona in front of 40,000 people and opened up for Metallica. We were soooooo nervous and soooooo bad! The audience hated us, and we received a downpour of boos and garbage. But a great experience! My second favorite performance was probably in Germany, hearing fans singing our songs in a different accent for the first time. So cool!”

Viola in a rock group? That’s quite unusual. How did that come about?

  • “I have always been interested in different music styles, but the restrictions of how the viola is traditionally played made me feel somewhat boxed in. I wanted to break through the typical viola mold. Having an inclination towards improv, I enrolled in a Jazz improv class at DU.”

Wow! Jazz improv on viola?? That must have been a little nerve wrecking!

  • “Yes, at first I was very nervous being the only non-traditional jazz instrument in class. Much to my surprise however, my fellow classmates were extremely receptive and encouraging towards the idea. It took some time, but I eventually found my niche within improvisation.”

What are some helpful tips you could give to aspiring musicians?

  • 07-etxl1“Focus on mastering your instrument, technical ability is extremely important. Also, don’t limit yourself. Don’t get sucked into a box of how to play your instrument. Don’t be afraid to experiment!”

What is your typical practice session like?

  • “Scales, of course! Keeping a good technique is extremely important for any type of improvisation. Then I might go through some classical etudes, but I ALWAYS practice solo Bach. I think there is so much you can learn from a single Bach piece that it is always a staple of my practice sessions.”

Who are your biggest influences?

  • Classical: Bach, Rachmaninov
  • Jazz/Blues: Ella Fitzgerald and Miles Davis
  • Radiohead (I always try to sound like them), Shins
  • Basically everything except metal and country!

How did DYAO prepare you for your future?

  • “DYAO gave me a great life lesson, how to work with other people. You’re never going to like all the people you work with, but you learn to get along and work together. Being in a string section magnified this as we had to match things like bowings and fingerings.”

What made you want to join DYAO?

  • “Well, my parents thought I should further my talents and join DYAO. Since I went to Denver School of the Arts, I also had a lot of fellow students encouraging me to audition. I remember be extremely nervous for my audition because I was already aware of DYAO’s elite reputation. When I found out that I had made it in I couldn’t have been happier, and couldn’t wait to participate in my first rehearsal!”

What was your favorite DYAO experience

  • “There were so many great experiences with DYAO, but I think my favorite would have to be  the France tour we went on my junior year of high school. It was a once in a lifetime experience. Being recognized in a different country for your talents was an amazing feeling.”

If you could give your high school self any musical advice, what would it be?

  • “Practice more! I loved the social aspect of DYAO (as we all do), but I wish I also would have experimented more, expanding the boundaries of what viola had to offer.”

Today, Mackenzie’s touring days are over for the most part. Now she enjoys being a mom to her two kids Findlay and Desmond in the Denver area. Still an active member of the Flobots, Mackenzie also finds time to contribute her musical skills towards educating children. As one of DYAO’s lead teachers within our group strings program, she travels to various elementary schools in the Denver area giving group string lessons and also teaches privately.

For more information on the Flobots you can visit their website at: They will be releasing a new album this coming spring entitled NOENEMIES.

On April 14th, 15th and 16th, you can see the Flobots collaborate with the Denver based dance studio Wonderbound at Pinnacle Charter School’s Performing Arts Complex. For more information on those concerts see this link:

On our next DYAO alumni blog, we will be featuring film composer and trumpeter, Sean Hennessy. Stay Tuned!

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