When I was downtown this past weekend visiting Railfest I saw folks gathered inside the old Dr. Pepper building on Broad Street. I was curious so I peeked inside.

As I approached the building, I was met by David Mallette who told me they were in the process of restoring the building and turning it into the Regional Music Heritage Center. I learned that Mallette is the Executive Director of the center.

Upon entering the establishment I saw an old player piano. No, it was not being played by the ghost of Scott Joplin. For those who don't know, Joplin was born near Texarkana and spent many years here honing his piano skills, playing what became known as Ragtime.

What I learned after talking with Mallette, however, was that Texarkana has always been a hotbed for musicians of all genres who either were born here or lived nearby. Mallette told me that Marshall, Texas, was the birthplace of Boogie Woogie. With so much dynamic musical history in our region it was only appropriate that Mallette wanted to organize something that would showcase our music heritage and at the same time preserve the legacy of some of the best musicians to ever perform.

Mallette said he is hoping to have the Regional Music Heritage Center open by this time next year. But a lot of pieces to the puzzle have to be put together in order for his dream to become a reality.

"Hopefully, through the Main Street program, donations, grants, and other private donors this will come to fruition. The first phase is to get this building restored back to its glory days, completely redoing the tile floors and tin ceilings," he said.

The result will be a public place where folks can gather two evenings a week for casual listening and "bring your own snacks and music" with the world's finest equipment. Jam sessions, lectures or impromptu performances are just some of what the center will offer.

A Preservation and Archiving Center also will allow transformation of historical recordings to high resolution digital for use by the public at the center for research and enjoyment. Recordings of lecture or performances for public and research usage will be available as well. The building will be enhanced with the sound of the world famous Klipsch speakers from the legendary Paul W. Klipsch who developed his audio technology in the mid 1940s in Hope, Ark.

The Regional Music Heritage Center will be an educational tool for local schools to enhance student understanding of our musical history. It will provide resources for visiting scholars to study the important influence of music on the region.

The center will partner with local arts, educational institutions and other organizations to add more emphasis on the musical heritage of the area to performances and events.

Additionally, the center will focus on all types of music from Native American, European influences, gospel, sacred harp traditions, mountain music, country and western to western swing. Jazz, blues, pop and rock will be in the forefront showcasing some the local jazz greats, the legends who performed here on the verge of superstardom like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Don Henley, and many others.

Regarding the piano I originally noticed -- it was a rare Marshall and Wendell AMPICO player piano. Manufactured in 1928, was a top of the line unit. This instrument was purchased from a Dallas couple who raised their children around it and they acquired it from the original owner. The piano is a Conlon Nancarrow (named after the Texarkana composer who ironically never learned to play the piano).

To learn more about the Regional Music Heritage Center be sure to visit its website.