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In Yellow Springs, A Young Man's Music Connects People Held Apart By COVID-19

Rilo Oberg playing piano for his Yellow Springs community.
Jocelyn Robinson
Rilo Oberg playing piano for his Yellow Springs community.

People are discovering some new ways to stay connected during the coronavirus pandemic. In Yellow Springs, a talented young man is using his gift to bring his neighbors together. For WYSO’s Alone Together project, here’s Jocelyn Robinson.

I’m Jocelyn Robinson and I live in the village of Yellow Springs, tucked in the corn and soybean fields of Southwest Ohio. The rhythms of our small community have quieted and slowed with social distancing, and while we’re keeping safe, we’re keeping apart. Many of us are missing shared activities, like movies, eating out, even grocery shopping or neighborly chats over yard work. But on a perfect April afternoon, on a day of blue sky and sunshine, of birdsong and spring peepers, my neighborhood did come together for a moment, for a concert, performed by a young musician with a mission.

Rilo Oberg is 14 years old. He’s been playing piano for most of his life.

On this day, he’s set up his portable keyboard and amp in my carport on our quiet street. About a dozen neighbors are listening from their own lawns and porches; we’re alone but together. Before the stay-at-home order, Rilo gave weekly concerts for residents at the local long-term care facility.

“And then when the corona virus cancelled that for obvious reasons, I just felt like A) I was kind of missing something, and B) I saw that there was just so much change in everything, I figured that it would be comforting to both other people and me if I just came out and played.”

Now he’s giving short performances in neighborhoods all over the village. Rilo’s dad, Erik Oberg, posts his son’s availability on a community-wide FaceBook page and schedules the driveway concerts.

So far, Rilo’s performed eight recitals, playing an eclectic repertoire of folk tunes, Chopin, the Beatles, and his own compositions. Mom Elena serves as roadie, delivering Rilo and his gear to concert venues in the family minivan, and helping him set up and tear down. She’s his number one fan too.

“Yeah, I’m really proud of him, but I also know he’s always worked so hard at his playing and it’s something he loves, his mom says.  “I was so proud that when he started playing at Friends Care on Sundays, and then when he couldn’t do it anymore that he was willing to start coming out and playing like this. I have to admit I feel so lucky that we get to just sit and listen to him play, especially on a beautiful day like today, it’s just a really nice thing to get to do, I think.

In these scary and uncertain times, it is a really nice thing to get to do. Thanks for playing for us, Rilo.

“I have one more piece for today,” Rilo says.

“This is ‘What a Wonderful World.’ It’s one of my favorite pieces and I always like to end these performances with this song because it’s just a reminder that no matter how bad this whole pandemic gets, we still live in a great place, so hope you enjoy it.”

Jocelyn Robinson is a Yellow Springs, OH-based educator, media producer, and radio preservationist.