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Town Center brings back lunchtime pianist

Charleston, W.Va. - Charleston Town Center got a facelift to celebrate its 30th anniversary.

But its managers haven't forgotten its history and have brought back a popular feature from its earlier days: a lunchtime piano player.

The mall hasn't had a pianist since George Legg, a musical fixture in the city, died in 2003, said mall marketing manager Lisa McCracken.

"We had actually held auditions to try to find a replacement pianist, and I think there were three people who did audition," McCracken recalled, "but we were just unable to find the caliber of pianist - George left big shoes to fill."

Enter musician Mark Scarpelli, best known for his work with Dan Kehde in the Contemporary Youth Arts Company along with his Beatles tribute band, Rubber Soul.

Scarpelli recently retired from his job as a Putnam County schoolteacher. He said he had a little time on his hands.

"I remembered the early mall days when there was a piano player," he said. "It just added a flair of coolness to the mall."

He asked McCracken if mall management had considered reviving the idea.

As a matter of fact, it had.

"In celebrating our 30th anniversary this year, one of the things we wanted to do was look back," she said.

The mall had long ago gotten rid of the baby grand piano that Legg had used and the area where he used to play, in the third-level food court, has been redesigned.

Scarpelli began last week using an electric keyboard set up in the mall's first-level center court. And it worked out great, he said.

"The sound just filters into that big cavern and it travels really well," he said.

McCracken agreed.

"The sound carries up. The glass railings we installed to replace the metal railings carry the music all the way up to the food court in a less distorted way," she said.

The mall's newly redesigned fountain isn't as noisy as the former one, so it's been left on while Scarpelli plays and he said it adds to the ambiance.

He will play from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at least through April. If it's well received, he and the mall will continue the arrangement.

So far, so good.

Scarpelli said McCracken told him to be prepared to take requests.

"The first thing she asked me was, 'Can you play and talk at the same time?' "

He comes prepared with a wide-ranging repertoire.

"I thought people would want to hear some recognizable melodies. I was thinking the classical thing is nice, but I'm not really proficient on all of the classical stuff," he said. "I was thinking more of music through the ages, so what I did was referenced Grammy Award-winning songs of the years, as well as the Billboard Top 10 of the years since 1950. I'm trying to get a lot of that in my repertoire. If it won an award, it's going to be recognized in some way (by listeners)."

With his first week under his belt, Scarpelli already has seen repeat visitors to the center court. And he's gotten requests.

One man asked him for Beatles tunes - easy enough for the Beatles expert.

"And I had a little kid come and ask for 'Tomorrow' from 'Annie,' " he said. "I'm having fun - I'm just doing what I enjoy."

Contact writer Monica Orosz at monica@dailymail.com or 304-348-4830.


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