Zen and the art of flute performance

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Get your “om” on!

Musician and bona fide grandmaster James Nyoraku Schlefer will show off his eclectic talent on the shakuhachi — a traditional Japanese wooden flute — in a performance sure to get plenty of one hands clapping.

Though the music he plays is intended to assist in meditation, Schlefer isn’t a Buddhist. He’s just a native Brooklynite and one-time classical flute student who 35 years ago fell in love with the complex and exotic refrains of the shakuhachi, and cast aside his Western trappings — namely, his old flute — to pursue his own path into musical enlightenment.

“The music is so compelling,” said Schlefer, who will perform at the Brooklyn Zen Center on Carroll Street. “For me, personally, practicing this instrument takes so much concentration, it is meditation.”

Nyoraku Schlefer wasn’t born with that flashy nickname — which means “like music.” A teacher bestowed it on him when he got his menjo, or license to play. Like a young grasshopper in the dojo, Schlefer had to climb the ranks — starting as a Jun Shi-han, or learner, then after 10 years’ study becoming a Shi-han, or master.

Finally, after another decade of intense practice, Schlefer attained the coveted title of Dai Shi-han, or grandmaster, an honorific rarely given to non-Japanese.

Today, Schlefer teaches the shakuhachi at Columbia University and to individual pupils in his Park Slope studio, and is always looking for opportunities to perform. So he reached out to the Brooklyn Zen Center, which he knew was looking for more members, to see if he could share his talents.

“I said, ‘Hey guys, why don’t you open up your doors, and I’ll get people I know to come out to your center,’ ” Schlefer said.

But don’t worry, you don’t have to assume the lotus position if you want to go: Schlefer said there will be plenty of chairs interspersed with the cushions at Brooklyn Zen the night of his performance.

“I’m expecting some people will be closing their eyes and meditating, while others will just be listening to this 1,000-year-old music,” he said.

“Awake in a Single Sound” at the Brooklyn Zen Center [505 Carroll St., Suite 2A, between Third and Fourth avenues in Gowanus, (718) 701–1083,]. April 19, 7:30 pm, $10.

Updated 10:09 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

ty from pps says:
Wow, Swampy et al. Even *native* Brooklynites are destroying Brooklyn with their "look at me" flute playing.
April 9, 2013, 10:15 am
diehipster from torturing tylers says:
Like yah, tyler, I totally see how a man who devoted most of his life practising an instrument is the same as a 29 year-old kidult from Des Moine who decided halfway through getting his $100,000 liberal arts degree that he was an artist and moved into a parentally subsidized $5,000 a month studio a Polish immigrant family got kicked out of so he could fingerpaint and 'handcraft' hummus sculptures.
April 9, 2013, 9:38 pm
ty from pps says:
April 9, 2013, 10:17 pm
music lover from Park Slope says:
The guy is an awesome musician - Eastern and Western. I for one am going to this concert. Listening to him play is a great experience.
April 10, 2013, 7:17 am

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