21 September 2023

'Not over til it's over': this mature-aged NSW TAFE Wollongong graduate is entering her Renaissance

| Dione David
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Actor, musician and TAFE NSW Wollongong graduate Mckenzi Scott crouches on the railways at the old Helensburgh rail tunnel

Mckenzi Scott has recorded sounds used in her compositions at unusual Illawarra locations including the disused Helensburgh rail tunnel. Photo: Supplied.

A Coniston actor-turned-musician Mckenzi Scott has made the rare progression to Sydney Conservatorium, and she wasn’t phased in the least about making the switch at 51.

She reckons sometimes the missing ingredient for finding your life’s passion is simply life itself: time and experience.

“Life is not over ’til it’s over. And in terms of finding your calling, it takes as long as it takes,” she says.

“I hope I can be in some way an inspiration to other mature-aged people who might be thinking about a career change.”

Mckenzi was classically trained in piano from age five to 17, and though she now admits it’s a great love, she railed against parental pressure to pursue a music career.

“I’ve been an actress my whole life, and whilst I love the creative side of acting the thing that always stood out most to me in a movie was the music,” she says.

“I was 17 when Rainman came out. I remember holding up my little walkman to the speakers of our old-fashioned television to record Hans Zimmer’s theme for the movie. I think I broke the cassette, I played it over and over so much. It was such a comfort and an escape, it engaged my emotions and allowed me to enter this whole other world.

“That’s what I want to do for people. That’s the goal – to have an impact and take people on emotional journeys.”

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Mckenzi went on to enjoy a successful acting career, particularly in Canada. She also dabbled in other areas of the film industry and once created and directed her own film. When it came time to compose the music for it, she rented a keyboard and did it herself.

“It turned out to be the most enjoyable part of that project,” she says. “Still, I didn’t make the switch.”

When COVID hit, like many Aussies abroad she raced home, but the acting gigs had dried up and the hospitality industry – her bread and butter – was haemorrhaging.

It was then she stumbled on a free TAFE NSW course on recording your own music, which she enjoyed so much that she went on to complete a Certificate IV in sound production.

At the same time, Mckenzi reconnected with her mother.

“She was the sole force that wanted me to play music, and it was only during this period we discovered how much we loved each other,” she says.

“In hindsight, I feel I had been rebelling against her most of my life.”

TAFE NSW Wollongong graduate and musician Mckenzi Scott playing piano

Mckenzi’s unique compositions blend soundscapes with music from traditional instruments such as piano. Photo: Amanda Keohane.

Truly immersed in music for the first time in her life, Mckenzi found her unique sound. During this time she also won the prestigious 2022 Avid Award for Best Mix of Music or Composition.

Her teachers, John Kilbey and Kelvin Haisman, encouraged her down numerous pathways to make a career out of her musical talents, including recording her own album or applying to the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. Overwhelmed by the options, she did nothing.

Then, her mother passed away.

“I guess you could say her death was the impetus,” she says.

“I felt this drive after she died, that just kind of pushed me to wake up one morning and realise ‘I have to do this’.

“I applied to ANU and the Con, unsure if I would be successful because I had missed the application deadlines.”

To her delight, she was accepted to both and is now studying a digital music and media degree at the Con. Her work, which blends her original compositions using traditional instruments with sounds she recorded in unusual locations, has been the organic result of this path.

“I’m doing a digital music and media degree, even though I’m a classically trained pianist. I’ll never lose my love for the piano – it’s such a soulful, pure and heartfelt sound,” she says.

“Don’t get me wrong – I’m very interested in these otherworldly sounds, but I think as a musician if you get too embedded in a computer you’re in danger of losing that soul of the music.”

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The soundscapes in her pieces come from unexpected sources. One of her compositions, The Siren, was created partly from sounds she recorded at the disused Helenburgh rail tunnels, and from a luxury Cirrus Cove property she once housesat.

“I literally went around the house recording everything with my little Zoom recorder – the sounds of the stainless steel bannisters, this door that looked like something you’d see at the Vatican, ornaments and glass bowls,” she says.

“They all ended up in this composition, but you wouldn’t know because I utilise them in a way that they sound like percussive elements.”

Mckenzi is now looking to turn her talent towards creating music for film, television and the booming video games sector.

“There is a lot of opportunity for musicians in the video games industry, and it allows for so much creativity,” she says.

“I’m attracted to it for the storytelling. Every song I make comes from a story.

“In video games you have unlimited amounts of stories because every person is experiencing it in their unique way – and music is the catalyst that allows that to happen.”

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