James Nyoraku Schlefer is a leading performer and teacher of shakuhachi in New York City. Called “A Master of the Shakuhachi” by The New York Times, he received the Dai-Shi-Han (Grand Master) certificate in 2001, one of only a handful of non-Japanese to receive this high level award. In 2008, he received his second Shi-Han certificate from Mujuan Dojo, in Kyoto. In Japan, Schlefer has worked with Reibo Aoki, Katsuya Yokoyama, Yoshio Kurahashi, Yoshinobu Taniguchi, and Kifu Mitsuhashi. His first teacher was Ronnie Nyogetsu Seldin. He holds a Master's degree in Western flute and musicology from Queens College and currently teaches music history courses at the City University of New York. He has performed at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center, Tanglewood’s Ozawa Hall, BAM, the Metropolitan Museum, and at colleges and universities throughout the US. Schlefer has four solo recordings, Wind Heart (which travelled 120,000,000 miles aboard the Space Station MIR) Solstice Spirit (1998), Flare Up (2002), and In The Moment (2008). His music has been featured on NPR’s All Things Considered.|
Beginning in Fall 2011 he is the shakuhachi teacher for the Hogaku/Gagaku program at Columbia University in New York City.
Schlefer first heard the shakuhachi in 1979, while working towards his Master’s degree in musicology. This was at a musical soiree in New York’s famed Dakota building, hosted by one of the professors at the CUNY Graduate Center. There was a sankyoku ensemble of shakuhachi, koto and shamisen, and following the recital, Schlefer was offered the opportunity to play the bamboo flute. The effort was met with total failure and taking that as a mandate, he began his now three-decade long pursuit.
Schlefer is a member of the Japanese music group Ensemble East, which performs traditional and modern music for Japanese instruments, including the shamisen and the koto. An exceptional solo artist, his appearances include lectures about the origin, history, and development of Japanese music. Schlefer has been a soloist in several orchestral settings including the New York City Opera, Karl Jenkins’ Requiem, and others. He has performed and lectured at Duke University (in two, week-long artist residencies), and at the Juilliard School, Manhattan and Eastman Schools of Music, Vassar, Haverford, Brown, Union, Moravian, Colby, Colby-Sawyer, Williams and Hunter Colleges, and at music festivals in the US, South America, Asia and Europe.
Nyoraku Sensei is head of the Kyo-Shin-An teaching studio in New York City. He has published books of traditional notation and written two etude books for shakuhachi technical development. As a composer, Schlefer has written many pieces for Japanese instruments including a shakuhachi concerto, a quintet for shakuhachi and string quartet, and numerous pieces for traditional Japanese instruments.