James Nyoraku Schlefer
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 composes for both Japanese and Western instruments, teaches shakuhachi at Columbia University and a broad spectrum of music courses at New York City College of Technology (CUNY), and performs and lectures at colleges and universities throughout the United States. He has four solo recordings: Wind Heart, Solstice Spirit, Flare Up, and In the Moment, plus Dpring Sounds Spring Seas, a recording of his own concerto with Orchestra of the Swan.
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). Shortly thereafter he began to study the instrument. 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, signifying that his knowledge of the repertoire was complete enough to teach it to others. He received the Shi-Han Master’s license in 1998, a second Shi-Han license in 2005, and was awarded the Dai-Shi-Han Grand Master’s License in 2001.
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 both World and Western Classical music, later adding Jazz and Fundamentals of Music to his courses. This Fall he will be the lead teacher for the Institute of Medieval Japanese Studies accredited Hogaku program at Columbia University – the first of its kind in the US.
Mr. Schlefer’s composition 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.