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Courtesy photo from Katheron Latham, Central High School / Junior basketball play Tongun Gore practices during piano class.

Inside Chattanooga's Central High School is a room full of music — literally.

Funded by community donations, the school now has a piano lab in addition to the school's fine arts program. The only other Hamilton County Schools facilities with a similar program are the Center for Creative Arts and East Hamilton High School.

The lab has 17 full-size, digital Kawai pianos connected to a system that allows students to practice with headphones independently or as a group.

"Again, Central is unique in the fact that this lab has come about through a community effort to raise the money for this unique project," said Katheron Latham, the school's choral director and piano teacher.

Last fall, Latham shared with Principal Phil Iannarone her interest in having a piano lab on campus so students would have the opportunity to study piano.

After a student survey showed great interest, Latham said Iannarone encouraged her to seek funding through community donations and grants.

Latham began applying for grants and sharing her vision with community leaders, fine arts supporters and alumni. Soon, donations came in cadence for the close-to-$35,000 piano lab.

The lead donors were 1954 alumni Admiral Vance Fry and his wife Charlynne, who encouraged donations by sponsoring a matching funds program.

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Courtesy photo from Katheron Latham, Central High School / The Piano Lab has 17 full-size, digital Kawai pianos connected with a lab system that allows students to practice with headphones independently or as a group.

"The Frys also support fine arts at Central through annual scholarships they donate to the performing and visual arts. The Central High School Alumni Association also donated to the project, along with spreading the word about the financial need throughout the community and the Central alumni," reads an email by Latham. "The Central Piano Lab Project also received generous donations from the Chattanooga Performing Arts League, Volunteer Energy Customer Shares program, Walmart of Collegedale, the CHS Senior Class of 2020, Food City School Bucks Program, Mr. and Mrs. John Reynolds, Ms. Becky Smartt-McDonald, Ms. Buffy Hoge, Mr. and Mrs. Steve Highlander, and Mr. and Mrs. Chad Latham."

Katheron Latham said her family helps renovate the classroom "with a lot of elbow grease and paint."

According to Latham, the lab's participants are a diverse group of students.

"Students include football and basketball players as well as choir and band students. The piano lab setting is also unique in the fact it allows for many different levels of students to study at the same time," Latham said. "Many students have commented they are really enjoying the class and are amazed at how much they have learned so quickly."

One of those students is sophomore Xander Akins, who plays football for the school. He says playing the piano is not that challenging and that he is close to mastering "Yankee Doodle."

His classmate Tongun Gore said he also enjoys playing the piano.

"I would like to continue to master more accomplished music," Tongun said.

The piano lab is available only to Central High students enrolled in the class.

Contact Monique Brand at mbrand@timesfreepress.com.

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