Artistic Director James Nyoraku Schlefer is a Grand Master of the shakuhachi, and one of only a handful of non-Japanese artists to have achieved this rank. He has performed at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center, Tanglewood, and BAM, as well as multiple venues across the country and in Japan, Indonesia, Brazil and Europe. Mr. Schlefer performs and lectures at colleges and universities throughout the United States, composes for both Japanese and Western instruments, and teaches a broad spectrum of music courses at New York City Technical College (CUNY), and shakuhachi in the accredited Hogaku program at Columbia University
Mr. Schlefer first encountered the shakuhachi in 1979, while working towards a career as a flute player and pursuing an advanced degree in musicology at CUNY (Queens College.) Today, he is considered by his colleagues to be one of most influential Western practitioners of this distinctive art form. Mr. Schlefer was awarded a Jun-Shi-Han teaching license in 1993, the Shi-Han Master’s license in 1998, the Dai-Shi-Han Grand Master’s License in 2001, and a second Shi-Han license in 2008 from Japanese Grand Master Yoshio Kurahashi.
Throughout his professional development, Mr. Schlefer’s academic and practical knowledge of Western Music was enhanced by his study of Japanese music and marked by a growing expertise in World Music in general. From 1996-2004, he was the Director of Presenting Programs for the Center for Traditional Music and Dance, a New York-based organization devoted to the research of ethnic folk arts and the production of festivals and concerts featuring traditional world music and dance of immigrant cultures. During this period he worked closely with exceptional musicians from many traditions including West African, Bukharan Jewish, Dominican, Chinese, and Korean; work which intensified his determination to create cultural bridges between his Western and Japanese areas of expertise. In 1995, he established his own school, the Kyo-Shin-An shakuhachi dojo, and in 1997, he joined the faculty of New York City Technical College (CUNY) as an adjunct lecturer teaching World music, Western Classical music, Jazz and Fundamentals of Music.
As a composer, Mr. Schlefer’s style draws upon his deep connections to Western classical and rock music, as well as traditional and modern styles of Japanese music. He writes for koto, shamisen, and shakuhachi, with and without Western instruments, combining these instruments with piano trio, string quartet and orchestra. Mr. Schlefer has been commissioned by Dancing in the Streets and PearsonWidrig Dance Theater, with the support of the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust (now the AMC) Live Music for Dance Program; the Sartori Ensemble, SONOS Chamber Orchestra and Kyo-Shin-An Arts, with three world premieres in New York and Kyoto in 2012. His current project is a Concertante for chamber orchestra with solo shakuhachi, koto, violin and cello that will premiere on May 31, 2013, with Orchestra of the Swan.