Lecture Programs

Music and Zen

A performance and lecture featuring original Zen music for shakuhachi that focuses on the traditional music known as honkyoku. Meditation is a central component of Zen Buddhism, and for centuries, monks known as Komuso (“Priests of Nothingness”) played the shakuhachi as an aid to meditation. The musical repertoire developed by these monks is unique and offers an insight into Zen philosophy. Discussion includes the music’s relationship to the history and philosophy of Zen Buddhism, as well as its cross cultural connections to Western music
 and society. Since the 13th century, these pieces were customarily played by Buddhist monks as a path to enlightenment. Passed down from teacher to student in an unbroken tradition, the music has captivated listeners with its unique and haunting sounds. 

Lecture Demonstrations

Honkyoku, or original music, is the music most closely associated with the shakuhachi. Lecture demonstrations combine performance with academic content and topics focus on the instrument, the techniques involved in sound production, the history of the music, notation and study, and concepts of cross-culturalism. Performances of traditional pieces are interspersed throughout the program. Shakuhachi music also reflects the political and social changes in Japan from the Edo period to the present. As an additional program option, Schlefer Sensei can bring student instruments for a hands-on workshop that includes a group lesson, shakuhachi notation, and melodic scale structure.

To see an example lecture given at Duke University Oct. 2007, click here.

Lecture Topics


A history of the instrument including its origins in China and development in Japan over the last one thousand years. Sound production and special techniques. How the bamboo is selected and crafted.

History of the Music

The shakuhachi as an instrument of Zen Buddhism and the development of its repertoire over the course of several centuries. The role of the Kumoso (Ronin turned monk) and the oral tradition. Development of the different lineages and their repertoire. The role of the Shakuhachi in the Japanese chamber ensemble.

Notation and Study

The development of the notation system over the last 150 years. A lesson on how to read shakuhachi notation, what a typical Japanese music lesson is like, and the different schools of shakuhachi playing.