Central music soars with help from a friend

Shannon CareyFountain City

Matt Parks has been the choral music director at Central High School for two years, stepping into big shoes and big expectations at a school renowned for excellence in the performing arts. But right now, he says it’s “a really cool time to be teaching in the music department.”

There are a lot of reasons behind that statement. One is a growing partnership between all aspects of the arts at Central. Another is a focus on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math), from the school’s administration team.

Country music singer Kelsea Ballerini presents a $20,000 donation to Central High School’s choral music department. With her are Central student Emma Sidoti, choir director Matt Parks and principal Michael Reynolds.

But one of the most exciting developments this year has been country music phenom Kelsea Ballerini‘s commitment to giving back to the music program where she spent two years.

In June, Ballerini brought Central High’s Bobcat Company to the CMA Festival in Nashville, where they got to sing the National Anthem, and Ballerini made it a point to spend time with the choir.

Then, at the end of October, Ballerini gave a free concert at Central and made a surprise donation of $20,000 to the choral music department.

Parks said the donation is a windfall for Central’s music program.

“That is easily five years of fundraising for us,” he said. “We’re going to buy LED lights, new speakers, new microphones, all really helpful things for the visual and sound stuff for our choir and musical performances. We were planning on buying these things a little bit at a time over the next several years. It was a total surprise.

“She is very much a Bobcat.”

Central choir members pose with the check from Kelsea Ballerini.

Parks said great things are happening in Central’s music department. A popular Pentatonix-style a cappella group launched this school year. The closing number at the Christmas concert was a joint effort of band and choir, with “upwards of 250 kids on stage.” Coming up in the spring semester are a production of “Little Shop of Horrors” and a coffee-shop-style evening of performing and visual arts.

But on top of the opportunities Ballerini’s donation gives to students, Parks said her example of giving time as well as money is a teaching moment for the kids.

“She’s a really kind person and really giving of her time,” he said. “I talk to the kids about giving money versus giving time. There were all these really cool personal gestures that she didn’t have to do. I’m just so glad to be associated with her, and we’re all just so proud of her.”

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