Who is Ben and Who is “I”?




Ben is sixteen years old and the co-founder / inspiration for “Ben & I Play for Peace”. He studied guitar for ten years with Suzuki teacher Frank Longay. He has been playing for peace for six years, turning his idea to use music to help others into a project that has raised more than $40,000.00 for Wheelchairs for Iraqi Kids (a CNN Heroes Honoree) and the Wounded Warrior Project. His straightforward belief that “one person might not be able to solve a problem, but everyone can help to help” has inspired musicians across the country to join in his efforts, garnered recognition from the US House of Representatives, and has helped him become the largest single fundraiser for WFIK.

His site, http://www.iplayforpeace.com details his work on this and several other projects. Ben  updates regularly.  Recently, Ben was featured by the PBS program “From the Top”, which highlights the playing and community work of young classical musicians. He currently studies guitar in San Francisco with Christopher Mallet.

Read his interview on their site by clicking this link.


Kim Perlak

Kim Perlak

Kim Perlak is the Founder of Ben & I Play for Peace, the Director of the 2011-13 Austin concerts, and the founder of the Veterans’ Guitar Project. With performances that are deeply personal and express a breadth of tradition, guitarist Kim Perlak has been recognized as an inspired voice in new American music. Her playing was praised by The Austin-American Statesman as, “thoughtful, enchanting, vivid…a songwriter’s circle without the lyrics,” and by another Austin reviewer as, “moving…the most patriotic thing I’ve experienced in many months.”

Kim’s versatile and inclusive approach to the instrument embraces new composition, scholarship, and public service. Kim has served on the faculty, written curriculum, and directed programs for Concordia University-TX, The National Guitar Workshop, Austin Community College, and the Educational Outreach Program of the Austin Classical Guitar Society. She holds degrees from The University of Texas at Austin (DMA ’08), Yale University School of Music (MM ’01), Stetson University (BM ’98). She is currently the Assistant Chair of Guitar at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.

Kim Perlak plays guitars by Thomas Humphrey and exclusively uses D’Addario Strings.  Visit Kim at her website, http://kimperlak.com.

Martha Lopez-Leschke, soprano

Martha Lopez-Leschke was the Director of Ben & I Play for Peace- Sarasota and now is a consultant on current projects.  She is a lyric coloratura soprano, performer and educator.  First trained as a classical pianist, she earned her Bachelor’s degree from Stetson University in 1997.  After commencing her career in music education, she shifted her focus to classical singing and earned a Master of Music degree in Vocal Performance from the University of South Florida- Tampa in 2006.  Upon graduating, Martha studied with renowned voice teacher and author Shirlee Emmons in New York, NY for several years.  Martha is frequently heard in recitals, concerts and operas throughout Southwest Florida.  An avid art song enthusiast, she loves to promote the art form with interesting, varied recitals, collaborating with instrumentalists to create fun and entertaining performances.  Martha serves on the music faculty of the State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota.  Learn more about Martha by visiting her website, http://marthalopezsoprano.com.

Kirby Kelley is a teacher in the Veterans’ Guitar Project, and was our special guest in Austin for 2013. He hails from St. Louis, Mo. and has settled into the north Texas region in recent years. He travels the states performing his own, indelible brand of Acoustic Americana; drawing from a myriad of influences that ultimately culminate into a warm gumbo of blues inflected soul food. Predominantly a slide guitarist, Kelley also feels right at home with the acoustic finger style techniques of the Mississippi Delta, Texas, Chicago, and Piedmont regions. Pulling from a broad palette, these styles are rendered with a personal stamp that end up all his own. Heartfelt vocals lend a soulful springboard to his solo acoustic guitar approach. When not performing or lending studio support, Kirby is an avid teacher and clinician, and he enjoys educating those interested in learning about all things blues and guitar related. Kirby and Kim met in 2002 at the National Guitar Workshop at a recording session for a cd that honored American veterans.

Veterans' Guitar Project performs at St. David's

Veterans’ Guitar Project performs at St. David’s

Rev. David Boyd & Margaret Perry are our partners in the 2013—2014 Veterans’ Guitar Project ~ Austin. David serves as the Rector of St. David’s Episcopal Church and as the host of the class performances. Margaret is he Director of the Armstrong Community Music School. She hosts the weekly guitar class, and generously extends her non-profit status to project and works to find support for this worthwhile endeavor. For more information about how to support these two “I’s”, please click on the “Who We Support and How to Help” or the “Veterans’ Guitar Project” tabs.

Robert Summers

Robert Summers

Robert Summers was the Student/Sponsorship Coordinator for Ben & I Play for Peace 2012-13, and now serves as a consultant on current projects.  He is a Texas native who graduated from Dripping Springs High School in 2000.  He later joined the United States Army and graduated from Airborne School where he was awarded his jump wings.  Summers was then assigned to the 5th Battalion 7th Air Defense Artillery unit in Kaiserslautern, Germany.  He married in 2007 to Sharon Summers, also a native Texan, and a 2004 graduate of the University of Texas in Austin.  Together, they resided in Germany for 5 years where they traveled throughout Europe and obtained much of the German culture and history.  Summers competed against numerous soldiers from over 7 battalions throughout Germany and won the prestigious title of Soldier of the Year in 2008.  Summers completed his tour in Germany where he was honorably discharged with an impact Army Commendation Medal (ARCOM) from Active Duty and joined the Army Reserves.  Summers currently reports to the 994th Medical Detachment unit in Round Rock, Texas.  Summers is finishing up his first semester at Concordia University in Austin, Texas as a Sophomore.  His emphasis is Political Science with a minor in Pre-Law.  Summers wants to become an attorney for the United States Army to continue his services to his fellow soldiers and country.

Cameron Peace, guitar

Cameron Peace was the Director of 2012 Ben & I Play for Peace- Seattle.   Cameron has been playing guitar for over 16 years in a variety of styles.  He started guitar playing blues and rock before attending the University of Washington where he studied classical and jazz guitar, obtaining a BA/BM in guitar performance.  He also graduated from The National Guitar Workshop’s intern program and has taught numerous classes with the company as a faculty member.  He is an active performer in the Seattle area, playing in a Hip Hop band (Theoretics), an Indie folk band (Golden Tree Story), a nylon string guitar duo (Monarch Duo), and a guitar bass jazz duo (Peace/Pereira Duo).  Cameron has also worked as a studio musician for instructional books, instructional DVDs, as well as appearing as a studio sideman on the albums of local artists.

Links: Theoretics:  www.theoreticsmusic.com   Golden Tree:  www.goldentreestory.org

Benjamin Verdery, guitarist/composer

Benjamin Verdery introduced Kim and Ben at his Maui guitar class in June of 2010. He composed the piece “Tibetan Prayer” that Kim and Ben premiered at the 2011 Austin concert, and was a special guest performer at the 2012 Austin concert.  Described as “iconoclastic” and “inventive” by The New York Times and “one of the classical guitar world’s most foremost personalities,” by Classical Guitar Magazine, Benjamin Verdery enjoys an innovative and eclectic musical career.

In addition to his performance tours and recording, since 1985, Benjamin has been chair of the guitar department at the Yale University School of Music and Artistic Director of the bi-annual Yale Guitar Extravaganza. Benjamin Verdery has also been Artistic Director of Art of the Guitar at the 92nd St Y (New York City) since 2006 and was appointed an honorary board member of the Suzuki Association of the Americas in 2007. Each summer Benjamin holds his Annual International Master Class on the Island of Maui (Hawaii).

Benjamin Verdery uses D’Addario strings and guitars by Greg Smallman and Christopher Carrington.  Visit his website at http://benjaminverdery.com.

Tenly Williams, oboe

Tenly Williams was the Director of 2011 Ben & I Play for Peace- Denver.  Tenly is a member of the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, principal oboist of the Steamboat Springs Orchestra, and founding member of the Mountain Music Ensemble.  Her career has included positions with the Binghamton Philharmonic and Fort Collins Symphony, as well as performances with the Colorado Chamber Orchestra, Denver Municipal Band, Colorado Symphony, Greeley Philharmonic, Austin Symphony, Cheyenne Symphony, and San Antonio Symphony Orchestras.

A Colorado native, Tenly is happy to be living in Denver after completing her Master of Music degree at the University of Texas at Austin in 2005 and her Bachelor of Music degree at the Eastman School of Music in 2001.  She has performed at numerous summer festivals around the world from Dublin, Ireland to Banff, Canada.

Also an active educator, Tenly teaches students of all ages and abilities at Parlando School for the Arts in Boulder, and the Rocky Mountain Center for Musical Arts in Lafayette.  A commercial reed maker for Midwest Musical Imports since 2004, Tenly presents reed making workshops in addition to master classes, entrepreneurship seminars, and recitals.

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