Shafer graduated from James Madison High School, in Vienna, Virginia, returning to teach there after college. In college, he earned a B.M. in piano performance and an M.M. in music composition from. Shafer studied music composition and conducting for nine summers with Nadia Boulanger at Le Conservatoire Américain, France.
He has served as artistic director of the City Choir of Washington since its launch in September 2007. He started studying piano at age 5. His family settled in Vienna, Virginia in 1954.
As an educator, Shafer"s work at James Madison High School attracted national attention, especially for his conducting a first-rate madrigal group.
He remained on the high school faculty from 1968 to 1975. From 1972 to 2007, Shafer was music director of The Washington Chorus, a leading choral ensemble in the United States. capital.
When he served as music director of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, he composed and conducted a setting of Tu es Petrus in honor of Pope John Paul’s October 1979 visit to Washington, District of Columbia In 1983, Shafer was appointed artist-in-residence and professor of music at the Shenandoah Conservatory of Shenandoah University in Winchester, Virginia.