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Stand by me, but apart: 2-man band lifts up one St. Louis neighborhood

Stand by me, but apart: 2-man band lifts up one St. Louis neighborhood

From the Celebrate good: Stories of St. Louisans coming together, offering hope series
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Two musicians lift up St. Louis neighborhoos

Dominique Burton (left) and Benjamin Kosberg (right) formed a two-man brass band to spread some joy during the coronavirus pandemic in Tower Grove. Photo courtesy of Dominique Burton. 

ST. LOUIS — It wasn’t a fancy setup. Just two guys, one tuba and a trombone slowly moving down a St. Louis street.

But the impromptu two-man brass band made up of roommates Dominique Burton and Benjamin Kosberg lifted up neighbors in Tower Grove sheltering in their homes this week to slow the coronavirus pandemic.

Burton and Kosberg, both 28, decided to first perform for their neighbors on Sunday.

“I was getting stir-crazy at home, so I said let’s just go play,” Kosberg said. “That was all we really planned.”

The two men walked through their neighborhood, switching roles on the tuba and trombone and playing whatever songs came to mind: New Orleans brass-band classics such as “Do Watcha Wanna” were in the mix along with “Lovely Day” by Bill Withers, whose death was announced by his family Friday.

“It was all spur of the moment,” Burton said. “We’d end a song when we got to the end of the street and would just say, ‘Uh, OK pick another direction.”

Neighbors stuck their heads out windows and came to the side of the road — standing 6 feet apart — to sing along. Often at the end of a song, the scattered audience would break into applause.

One Tower Grove neighbor who asked to be identified only by her first name, Adrienne, said she missed the show the first time they played, but caught the roommates when they filled her street with music again Wednesday.

She took out her phone and started to record as they struck up a slow rendition of “Stand by Me” while walking past the classic St. Louis brick residences.

The ladies across the street from her started to dance and sing, but she stopped recording before many neighbors began to clap and cheer for the musicians.

“I really wish I recorded that part,” Adrienne said. “Because it brought tears to my eyes.”

Adrienne sent the video to her family, and her brother posted it on Twitter. By Friday morning, it had at least 1.7 million views.

“I had to make a Twitter account to watch it,” said Kosberg, who works in construction and makes custom furniture on the side.

Burton, a high school music teacher, said he’s loved seeing the video spread some joy online far beyond who they could reach in-person. The roommates are considering more performances, but have so far stuck to Tower Grove.

“We could only really go as far as you can carry the tuba,” Kosberg said.

Burton said he thinks the video got such a positive response in part because “Stand by Me,” made famous by Ben E. King, is a song that brings people together.

It’s a song that gives a bit of comfort even now when, yes, we all have to stand apart.

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