We had the good fortune of connecting with Mari Kawamura and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Mari, how has your work-life balance changed over time?
Yes. I think balancing work is extremely important and it has changed for me over time. Performers are basically the same as athletes, building up muscles that are not necessarily used in our daily life by repetitive training (practice), and using our bodies to put on performances for an audience. However, unlike athletes, musicians tend not to be the fittest people in the world (myself very much included), since we often work indoors all day with no time for physical exercises. I used to keep a super intense schedule, practicing 8 to 10 hours a day during weekends, usually without having breakfast, since I had to rush to school to secure a practice room. Repeating this kind of routine, I eventually hurt my back and developed an injury that kept me in bed for a couple of months. Tough lesson! I recently read the book “Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself” by Dr. Joe Dispenza, which helped me realize that I was in a survival mode for the entire time and made me think “how can I create anything if I’m in such a state?” Being a musician presents us with challenges not only physically, but mentally. Because we don’t always have a clear idea of when a work of art is “done”, it can sometimes feel like our end goals are unreachable and we just keep pushing ourselves forever. On top of this inner struggle, we also face the external stresses of self-promotion, financial insecurity, and receiving reviews of, and critiques on our work. In order not to be reactive to these events, and cultivate a healthy creative flow, I learned over time that it is extremely important to maintain good physical and mental health. I am now very attentive about staying balanced and centered by meditating and practicing yoga every morning before opening any mobile devices or making sure to have a day off each week to go for a long walk out in nature. In these times I feel very lucky to be in California with so many beautiful natural parks around!!!!
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I was born and raised in Japan. Being curious about different cultures and people, I proceeded to London after finishing college in Nagoya, and also trained in Boston before coming to San Diego five years ago. Here I am working toward my doctoral degree in piano performance at UCSD while traveling internationally to play concerts. I am passionate about mixing musical works from different eras and areas of the world in my concert programs, since I feel that doing this helps to present the core similarities that these sometimes disparate works display. By learning about my own culture and thinking about how I experience the world through its lens, I’ve come to notice more similarities between various works of art and cultural practices from all over the world. For the last couple of years, I have been both academically and artistically focusing on the idea of ma (間), which is an ancient Japanese concept concerning space and time. Ma means “interval” or “gap” in Japanese, and the concept has served as an essential element in Japanese traditional arts for centuries. It is a beautiful and philosophical word, which contains nuanced implications of movements within silence or “empty” spaces. As much as I was fascinated by the idea, I was also bothered that the concept is often used with a hint of nationalistic mindset; being used to differentiate the Japanese perspective from others. As my research went further however, I started to notice ma-like elements in musical pieces from many other times and locations as well. One outcome of this research is a recording project, for which I curated a program of pieces from different locations, times, and styles that I think embody the idea of ma. My intention for this project is not to praise one type of cultural understanding, but rather to point out the universality of certain concepts, like the “alive stillness”, described in Japanese thinking as ma. When you look at one cultural practice closely, and observe others with an open and understanding mind, you are able to see the qualities which are common. This way of thinking is how I personally approach equity. Through the arts, we can appreciate our differences and notice our “samenesses” at the same time, because no culture stands and blooms entirely on its own. I am excited about delivering this message through my work.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
On one day, I would definitely take them to a morning yoga class at Trilogy Sanctuary and have breakfast in their rooftop vegan café afterwards. I also love to go to La Jolla Cove, watch the sea lions, and eat delicious ice cream from Bobboi Natural Gelato. Here we might also take part in some marine activities like snorkeling. When we are in the La Jolla area, I would want to take them to Pannikin La Jolla and check out beautiful old books at D.G Willis as well. Of course, we would also check out Conrad Prebys Music Center at UCSD, where there are cool and unusual concerts almost every night (currently closed due to COVID-19.) I would also like to spend a day with them exploring Anza-Borrego State Park. Especially if they are visiting in the springtime, the wildflowers blooming in the desert is a must-see! Speaking of flowers, we would also likely visit the flower field at Carlsbad Ranch. On the way back, we could explore Encinitas, have tacos at the taco stand and visit the beautiful meditation garden. If we were up for a longer drive, we may even go up to Joshua Tree and camp overnight. On another day, we could visit Bolboa Park, since there are so many things to do there. A friend of mine visited recently with her two-year-old son, who was ecstatic about the train museum, as well as the miniature train in the park! He also loved the New Children’s Museum, which had play equipment which was artistic and impressive even to us adults. While in that area we could also visit City Tacos, which offers a more modern interpretation of tacos. While staying in San Diego, another must-do is to check out local breweries! I don’t drink much, but San Diego beer is an exception for me! The quality and variety of the beer here are incredible. Mission beach is another fun place to visit with very Californian vibe.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
This is a difficult question, since there are so many people that I’m grateful for! However, I would like to use this opportunity to dedicate a shoutout to my great teachers. If I didn’t meet of them, I wouldn’t have been able to keep continuing this musical journey. Emiko Kumagai – Thank you for teaching me how to play the piano the real way! Vadim Sakharov – Thank you for opening my eyes to the broader world outside of my bubble! Tatiana Sarkissova – Thank you for your motherly love when I was going through some tough times! Stephen Drury – Thank you for welcoming me to the new music world and lighting the fire of confidence in me! Aleck Karis – Thank you for always having my back and giving me constructive advice!
The picture in front of the green wall is by Tiange Zhou.