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Omaha Magazine

Chords of Community

Feb 24, 2023 10:15AM ● By Julius Fredrick
JD Mossberg’s Talent for Harmony Inspires and Unites

Photo by Bill Sitzmann

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Like any city of its size, Omaha has its ambassadors; world-class athletes like Terrence “Bud”Crawford, breakthrough musicians in Bright Eyes and 311, and of course, the auger of fortune himself, Warren Buffett. And just like other cities, there exists a strata of celebrity familiar to residents alone—a layer occupied by figures less bound to history, but lore.

From the “Orange Lady” (Lucile Schaaf) of Lucile’s Old Market, the ubiquitous “Rose Guy”(Dean Battiato) of the Benson bar scene, to the beloved “Broom Man” (Rev. Livingston Wills)—soon to be memorialized in bronze by sculptor John Lajba—such personalities are unique to, and thus help define our community. Through them, oral tradition is revived—their meremention spring-loaded with anecdotes; shared, singularly Omaha experiences that trail these unique, at times inscrutable, personalities.

Though he doesn’t have a descriptive epithet (yet), for many Omahans, 42-year-old JD Mossberg fulfills this unifying role. Precocious and kind, his regular on-foot pilgrimages along Dodge Street—as far east as Saddle Creek, to westward of Beverly Hills Plaza—have earned him many friends and patrons in the area.

“I have friends at various and a lot of places,” JD beamed. “And they are like family.”

As somebody with William’s Syndrome—a rare genetic condition not only characterized by cognitive difficulties, but heightened levels of empathy and friendliness—JD delights in establishing and maintaining relationships. His innate charm aside, there’s another, perhaps lesser known gift conferred by his condition: extraordinary musical ability.

“A lot of those kids with William’s Syndrome are very musical—that part of their brain is really highly developed,” said JD’s mother, Ann Mossberg. “The place where he went for daycare, he sat down and was playing the piano, and that was the first that I knew that he was musically inclined.”

In pre-pandemic years, JD’s public performances were more commonplace—frequently spotted at the bench of Von Maur’s grand piano, fingers gliding over pearly keys. As if under a trance, his expressive, congenial features would soften, and he’d begin to play. Ethereal chords fanned across the marble floors, in places sonorous and stormy, in others purling and gentle. Listeners could be forgiven for thinking that the sweet, intricate notes had been written by a classical master; obscure Bach or Chopin stanzas, memorized and sequenced. However, the truth is even more remarkable: despite sounding like carefully—at times ingeniously—arranged musical notation, JD’s performances are improvised.

On what inspires his playing, JD explained, “In outer space, there’s this music that is so inspiring that it makes me learn [...] In several miles up from here, in outer space, there’s music I would like to write about—the shiny lights up there. The earth that’s moving in outer space, the stars glowing like an angel.”

“It sounds classical,” Ann added, “but he makes up stuff. When he was younger and he first started doing that, we thought ‘oh my gosh, that’s really pretty—what is it?’”

Divinely inspired or otherwise, faith is important to JD. He’s grown to become an integral member of the parish at Saint Margaret Mary Catholic Church, where his personality and talents are widely celebrated.

“A lot of chords, a lot of pedal action crescendos...he kind of loses himself in, he goes to a different place.” noted Mary Kelly, the parish’s front desk manager and Mossberg family friend.
“I don’t want to say he’s zoned out, because he’s not. It just sort of takes over and comes out of his hands, which is really fascinating.

“I don’t want to say he has any deficits, because he doesn’t—he’s just JD,” Kelly continued, “but the fact that there are people who study and take music classes and have above-average IQs and can’t do what JD can’s definitely a huge gift.”

Beyond his musical talents, JD is valued for his volunteerism and his protective, caring nature. He’s known to patrol the church parking lot during large events, and has even warded off attempted car break-ins.

In years past, JD brushed against entities of an altogether more sinister quality; in July 2018 he discovered Neo-Nazi literature in one of Omaha’s Little Free Libraries near Saint Margaret Mary’s, and promptly sounded the alarm.

“Whoever [is] doing this better know that our neighborhood doesn’t stand for the Swastika or Nazis or evil,” he told WOWT News at the time.

“He looked in our library and there was some Nazi propaganda, [and] he started yelling, ‘Mrs. Kelly call the police!’” recalled Kelly. “So now he rides his bike around and checks all the Little Libraries in the neighborhood, just to make sure there’s nothing bad in there. He has a strong sense of justice...and he just cares about everybody.

“He’s just a great guy, you know? There’s not much not to love about JD.”

Outside of church, JD keeps busy in the greater community—participating in the Nebraska Special Olympics, volunteering for the fire department (his favorite), and working at Outback Steakhouse.

Musically, his public performances have taken a back seat to recording and producing—though he does still occasionally play with the band Minor Detail at Jam’s Midtown. He’s already completed a multi-track album centered around traversing the high seas, wherein JD supplies keys, percussion, and vocals. He’s presently working on his sophomore album, this time with themes of space exploration.

“People better be ready for a big shocker. Well, it is history in the making,” JD said of being profiled for Omaha Magazine. “That’s right, I made history. I want [the readers] to know I just want them to show support for Omaha—I want them to know about Omaha.” 

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This article originally appeared in the March/April 2023 issue of Omaha Magazine. To subscribe, click here. 
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