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James Nyoraku Schlefer

Brooklyn, NY         

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 received the Dai-Shi-Han (Grand Master) certificate in 2001, and his second Shi-Han certificate in 2008, from the Mujuan Dojo in Kyoto. 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 throughout Europe. 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.  In February 2014, Concertonet.com gave him the accolade of “America’s finest Shakuhachi player”.

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Mr. Schlefer is the Artistic Director of Kyo-Shin-An Arts, a contemporary music organization dedicated to bringing Japanese instruments to Western classical music. He also teaches shakuhachi at Columbia University, a broad spectrum of Western and World music courses at New York City College of Technology (CUNY), and performs and lectures at colleges and universities throughout the United States. His personal dojo is in Brooklyn, NY.

As a composer, Mr. Schlefer’s unique style draws upon his deep connections to Western classical and rock music, as well as traditional and modern styles of Japanese music. He has written multiple chamber and orchestral works combining Japanese and Western instruments as well as numerous pieces solely for traditional Japanese instruments. 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 Orchestra of the Swan, Kyo-Shin-An Arts, the Sartori Ensemble, SONOS Chamber Orchestra and Dancing in the Streets, and Pearson Widrig Dance Theater, with the support of the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust (American Music Center – Meet the Composer) Live Music for Dance Program. He recently completed a violin concerto for Orchestra of the Swan and its leader, David LePage.

In December 2015, Mr. Schlefer was recognized by Musical America Worldwide, for his work both as a composer and as Artistic Director of  Kyo-Shin-An Arts, as one of their “30 Top Professionals and Key Influencers”. Mr. Schlefer’s programming for Kyo-Shin-An Arts has also been recognized with two CMA/ASCAP Awards for Adventurous Programming (2013 and 2016). His orchestral music can be heard on the recording Spring Sounds Spring Season MSR Classics.

Schlefer’s Shakuhachi Concerto is one of the most successful examples of musical fusion that I’ve heard. – Lee Passarella, Audiophile Audition

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Articles by James Nyoraku Schlefer:

NewMusicBox February 28 2018 | By James Nyoraku Schlefer
Some Practicalities of East-West Musical Collaborations

So you want to write music for the koto, the shakuhachi, or the shamisen? Well, you’re in luck. Up until fairly recently, you would have been hard-pressed to find a...

NewMusicBox February 22 2018 | By James Nyoraku Schlefer
Elements of Japanese Music

The most ubiquitous and well-known concept in Japanese aesthetics is "Ma" which has been translated as "nothingness" or "emptiness". But much more than the absence of something, it is a...

NewMusicBox February 15 2018 | By James Nyoraku Schlefer
The Intersection of Genres

I had become professionally proficient in two very different, highly structured classical traditions. I was acutely aware of their musical parallels and seemingly irreconcilable differences, and as a teacher, performer,...

NewMusicBox February 8 2018 | By James Nyoraku Schlefer
How I Got Here (Making New Music with Japanese Instruments)

The first time I tried playing a shakuhachi, it was an epic fail. “As a classically trained flutist, surely it should not be so difficult to make a sound on...