James Nyoraku Schlefer

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James Nyoraku Schlefer
Birth name James Schlefer
Born (1956-08-31) August 31, 1956 (age 61)
Genres World music
Occupation(s) Musician, composer
Instruments Shakuhachi, flute
Website nyoraku.com

James Nyoraku Schlefer (Japanese: ジェイムス 如楽 シュレファー), born 1956 in Brooklyn, New York, is a performer and teacher and composer of shakuhachi in New York City. 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 Reishin Seldin. He holds a Master's degree in Western flute and musicology from Queens College and currently teaches shakuhachi at Columbia University and music history courses at the City University of New York.[1]

Education and lineage[edit]

Schlefer was introduced to the shakuhachi in 1979, while working towards his Master’s degree in musicology. He attended a sankyoku ensemble of shakuhachi, koto and shamisen, and following the recital he was offered the chance to play the shakuhachi, and although he was a working professional silver flute player he was unable to produce a tone on the shakuhachi, spurring his interest and eventual devotion to the instrument.

Nyoraku Sensei is a grand master of the Jin Nyodo lineage, having learned from Kurahashi Yoshio, Mitsuhashi Kifu, Ronnie Nyogetsu Seldin,[2] and Keisuke Zenyoji, all of whose teachers learned from Jin Nyodo. Jin Sensei’s honkyoku repertoire draws from several traditional lines; Kinko ryu, Kinpu ryu, and Fuke Meian. In turn, Schlefer has taught and licensed several students, including Brian Tairaku Ritchie.

Performance career[edit]

Schlefer frequently performs traditional and modern music with other Japanese instruments, including the shamisen and the koto. He also performs with classical music ensembles such as string quartets, orchestras, and other chamber ensembles. An educator as well as performer, 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[3] (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 U.S., South America, Asia and Europe.


James Nyoraku Schlefer holds advanced degrees, and has years of performing experience, in two musical traditions. His original compositions bring these worlds together. Of particular interest to Schlefer is combining Japanese and Western instruments in new compositions that explore two sound worlds in a way that is exciting but not derivative, beautiful yet deeply respectful of both classic traditions.

As a composer, Schlefer has received numerous commissions and grants, including from the Orchestra of the Swan (UK), Dancing in the Streets (with the support of the Mary Flagler Cary Trust Live Music for Dance Program), SONOS Chamber Orchestra, the Satori Chamber Ensemble, and PEARSONWIDRIG DANCETHEATER (with the support of the O’Donnell Green Foundation and the AMC Live Music for Dance Program).

In 2008, Schlefer founded Kyo-Shin-An Arts, a not-for-profit arts organization “dedicated to the appreciation and integration of Japanese musical instruments in Western classical music.” Kyo-Shin-An Arts commissions and produces new works and concerts that highlight the outstanding virtuosity of the koto, shakuhachi and shamisen.


Schlefer is founder and 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. he holds two Shi-Han (Master) certificates, and one Dai-Shi-Han (Grand Master) certificate, and is well respected as a teacher in both the U.S. and Japan. He has been passing on shakuhachi tradition for nearly twenty years and devotes many hours each week to teaching.[4]

Nyoraku Sensei’s dojo is in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Students learn in the Japanese style, facing the teacher and first singing then playing the music together. Historically, traditional music was taught entirely by rote, with the student copying everything the teacher played by ear. At Kyo-Shin-An, the spirit of this method is maintained but with contemporary modifications, such as using notation, and with comments and suggestions to improve playing.

In the course of study, students learn to play 41 pieces of honkyoku (Zen Buddhist traditional music), 45 sankyoku pieces (chamber music played with koto and shamisen), and numerous folk songs. Upon completing this curriculum, a licensing course (which involves playing the music upside down and “teaching” it to the teacher), and a public performance, students will earn a Jun-Shi-Han Associate certificate and receive a Japanese name.

Books and Etudes[edit]

  • The Practical Shakuhachi (2008) Exercises and Etudes for Technical Development
  • Shakuhachi Workbook (2000) Exercises for Technical Development


  • Esquisses, with The Powell Quartet
  • Voice of the Whale (1994)
  • Wind Heart (1996)
  • Solstice Spirit (1999)
  • Buddha and Bonsai (vol.4)
  • Flare Up (2002)
  • In The Moment (2009)
  • Spring Sounds, Spring Seas (2011)MSR Classics


  • Solstice Spirit[5] (1997) for Shakuhachi Orchestra in Four Parts
  • Brooklyn Sanya (1999) for solo Shakuhachi
  • Couple Dance (1999) for Two Shakuhachi
  • Timeless Moment (2001) for Four Shakuhachi
  • Flare Up (2002) for solo Shakuhachi
  • Big Piece (2004) for Shakuhachi Orchestra in Five Parts
  • Ten Original Duets (2005) for Two Shakuhachi
  • Kuomoijishi (2005) for Four Shakuhachi
  • Duo No. 1 (2004) for shakuhachi and Koto
  • Duo No. 2 (2006) for Shakuhachi and Shamisen
  • Quintet (2006) for Shakuhachi and String Quartet
  • Duo No. 3 (2007) for Shakuhachi and 20-string Koto
  • Concerto (2009) for Shakuhachi and Chamber Orchestra
  • A Smile on the Buddha Calm (2010) for Shakuhachi, Violin, Cello and Piano
  • Oashisu (2010) for shakuhachi, koto, cello and percussion
  • Haru no Umi Redux (2011) for Shakuhachi, Koto and String Orchestra
  • Sankyoku No. 1 (2011) for Shakuhachi, Koto and Cello
  • String Journey" (2012) for Shamisen and String Quartet
  • Take Rei (Bamboo Bell)" (2012) for shakuhachi and Crotales
  • Zen and Sushi" (2012) for Treble Chorus
  • Brooklyn Reibo" (2012) for Solo Shakuhachi
  • Concertante" (2013) for Shakuhachi, Koto, Violin and Cello with Chamber Orchestra 1,1,1,1,2,2 perc, strings
  • Dream Corner" (2013) for Shakuhachi, Koto, Shamisen and String Quartet
  • JAMU" (2014) for Shakuhachi, Koto, strings and percussion
  • JAMUII" (2015) for Shakuhachi, shamisen, strings and percussion
  • 2Blue" (2016) for Shakuhachi and viola
  • Fantazía" (2016) for violin and orchestra
  • We Will (Surely) Meet Again" (2017) for Shakuhachi, Koto, shamisen and voice


External links[edit]