“Producing knowledge and producing little lives at the same time was the ultimate creative practice.” Featured Artist: Ai Mizuta

This week, we’re delighted to feature Dr. Ai Mizuta. She wears multiple hats as a mother, wife, university lecturer, researcher, content creator, violinist, and violin teacher. She was born in Kobe, Japan and grew up in Tokyo and Brisbane (Australia), becoming bilingual in both English and Japanese. She moved to Vancouver, Canada in 2006 and lived there since. Ai received a PhD in Language Education at the University of British Columbia and has worked as a program coordinator at the Asia-Pacific Cultural Centre for UNESCO in Tokyo and as a researcher for the Japanese Consulate in Vancouver. 

Wherever she moves around the world, Ai always take her violin with her and joins the local community orchestras. She is grateful for the gift of music in her life: to be able to make music and connect with people around the world, something that she has been doing since she was 4 years old. Her current passion encompasses providing support for parents raising little musicians to thrive not only musically but holistically. She is on her way of creating a platform for parents called “Little Musician’s Way” where parents can discuss their ongoing challenges and read about practice tips and advice in raising little musicians. Lastly, Ai asked to include a friendly greeting: “Hi everyone, and thank you for having me Katherine!”

Ai in performance

Could you explain what your creative practice is like?

I would say I am trying to materialize the art of “multitasking.” I play the violin, I teach sociolinguistics at university, I am a translator, I teach the violin to adult beginners, and I am a mom. These are all creative practices in themselves, but combining them together requires another level of creativity. 

Just to talk about the violin here: it is something that I have been doing since I was a toddler. While it is not my career, playing the violin was always part of my life. The great thing about the violin is that you can carry it wherever you go and join the local community orchestra all over the world. When I moved to Toronto from Tokyo to do my Master’s degree, I did not know anybody in the city. I was feeling lonely, and the weather there did not help! Luckily, I brought my violin with me so I took the audition and joined the university orchestra even though I was quite swamped with all the reading and writing I had to do for my degree (which is unrelated to the violin!). Through my violin, I was able to meet people in new places and make beautiful music together. It is truly a gift. I also play the violin to get in touch with something that is beyond my own existence across time and space: the music created by great composers and the music played by many, many people before us. Just to be part of the art is so humbling and joyful. 

What are important motherhood contexts people should know about you?

I have two daughters, eight and five. I am originally from Japan and my husband was born and raised in Vancouver, so we hope our kids grow up speaking English and Japanese. However, it’s been a challenge to keep up with Japanese beyond the preschool level! 

It’s ironic because I am a bilingual education expert. I completed my Ph.D. in language education while I had my girls. Producing knowledge and producing little lives (and keeping them alive) at the same time was the ultimate creative practice. But what I was learning in my study did not quite agree with my real-life experience as a mother. For example, research shows to do A and B to raise a bilingual child, but in real life doing A and B is quite impossible. I am still trying to bridge that gap but my priority is not there right now. As a mother, I have very limited time, and I have to choose what I want to do. 

How has the practice of your creative life changed since motherhood?

It has completely changed. Before kids, I could join multiple local orchestras and have all my weekends spent on practicing the pieces. After kids, just getting out of the house at night (rehearsals and concerts happen at nighttime) was a huge challenge. I went back to the weekly rehearsal with the orchestra right after I had my first daughter, but she would keep crying for three hours while I was away. My husband would text me in the middle of the rehearsal to come home, lol. After our second daughter was born, I had to take a year or 2 years (my memories are blurry) leave from the orchestra because it was just too much on my plate, taking care of the girls, writing up my dissertation and playing at the orchestra. 

Now that the girls are a bit bigger, I am able to spend some time with my violin. Perhaps, half an hour a day when they are at school and if I’m not teaching at university (I teach sociolinguistics as a sessional lecturer). Also, my 8-year-old daughter plays the violin so I spend quite a lot of time coaching her practice and playing music together, in addition to taking her to her violin lessons and chamber music class. My daughter and her musical journey gave me another creative outlet that is currently more exciting than anything I do for myself. I share our musical journey on Instagram but I am also trying to create a platform that helps other parents who are on this journey with their kids. This will be my next creative project. 

What has been most challenging about sustaining a creative life in motherhood?

There is simply not enough time and energy. I had to admit I can’t have it all. I don’t need to have it all. For example, I realized I don’t need to have a career that defines who I am. I do many things and while I’m not a superstar in any of the things I do, I am happy every day with many of the things I do and I am grateful for that. Sure, there are many things I am not entirely happy about (like endless house chores), but I came to realize that is okay. I totally agree with Michelle Obama who said it is selfish to want it all. If you have it all, that means somebody is not having what you have. So true. In our society, we have been told that we can have everything if we try hard. That is a myth. And we have to free ourselves from the myth and obsession. 

What’s been the best surprise about having a creative life in motherhood?

I am surprised at how much I appreciate the little things I took it for granted before having kids. For example, getting out there and making music with other musicians brings me more joy now that I am a mother. The fulfillment that music brings me is beyond my own little existence. I don’t know if it’s about being a mom or simply about getting older, but I do feel more beauty in the creative process with other people. 

Also, because I always attend my daughter’s violin lesson, I am re-learning the violin as I observe the lessons, and there are so many light bulb moments. I have been playing the violin for almost four decades now, but there is still so much to learn and discover. When I was taking lessons as a child, I didn’t really understand the art of playing the violin in depth. I passively listened to the teacher and didn’t really care, to be honest. Today, as a parent, I am proactively listening to the teacher and trying to instill the art in my daughter. I never thought I’d enjoy coaching my daughter so much. I have come full circle and found my new passion as a violin mom. 

Photo credit: Tom Swinnen

What are the particular issues that come up as an artist in your field with children?

I cannot commit to many rehearsals, late-night concerts, weekends, and so on. This is the biggest challenge. I just have to weigh my priorities. I appreciate spending with my girls afterschool and I don’t want to give that up right now. This childhood time is too precious to miss. 

Right now, I only have to get out once a week at night for rehearsals, and for the concert week that happens every two months, I have three nights out. On these days, my husband or the girls’ babysitter stays with the girls. Anything more than this is too much. 

Making time for practicing is also extremely hard if the kids are not in school yet. You just have to use every second here and there, as you will never be able to practice in a big chunk. As I said at the beginning, I would call my artform “multitasking” as I would practice while I cook, do, the laundry, and teach. 

What’s been the your most important mantra for having a creative life as a mother?

A woman’s life starts when we are 50. Many Japanese women I respect including my mother say so. My mother started her own business in Tokyo when she was 50. At 73 today, she is still on fire and her business is growing. My favorite female comedian Emiko Kaminuma also says when the women are in there 30s and 40s, they are so busy with their family life. It’s okay to take a break from the frontline during those years, but keep sowing seeds, one at a time. If there is a small job that you can handle, even if it’s not a glamorous job, just take it and do it well. You won’t be able to make a big hit or become successful overnight. But as long as we keep sowing, we will be able to cultivate these seeds later in our life. We can’t get frustrated and stress out, because that will kill us. We cannot enjoy the cultivation stage if we are not healthy. 

Who are other artist mothers in your field that inspire you?

The “Mind Over Finger” host, Dr. Renee-Paule Gauthier. She is a violinist herself but also a professor who encourages people to practice the violin with mindfulness rather than crunching in time and just practicing for the sake of practicing. She has this amazing podcast, which really helped me keep practicing with efficiency in perspective.  I’ve always been about efficiency so there were a lot of light bulb moments. Since my daughter is thriving with only a few minutes of practice every day (you can watch her practice on my Instagram), it made me think what I can do for other moms who think they can’t do it because they believe having their kids playing an instrument requires many, many hours of practice a day, even at the hobby level. But that’s not true. Playing the violin, or any instruments should be for everyone, and I hope I can inspire other parents by providing them what I’ve learned over the years. I am excited for this next project.

Learn more about Ai’s new music project at www.littlemusiciansway.com

You may request to follow her at http://www.instagram.com/aimizuta

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