Commentary: Youth orchestras expose the good and bad karma of the Super Bowl

SoFi Stadium seen last week, left, and the Beckmen YOLA Center seen last summer.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times, Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

It’s one short 30-minute walk from the new Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Judith and Thomas L. Beckmen YOLA Center in downtown Inglewood to the new SoFi Stadium. But on Super Bowl Sunday, the Youth Orchestra Los Angeles made a pretty big leap.

This was not the first time YOLA made an appearance at the Super Bowl. In 2016, the orchestra backed Coldplay, Beyoncé and Bruno Mars during the halftime show, with Gustavo Dudamel conducting. Yesterday members of YOLA appeared on the pregame ceremonies for Super Bowl LVI to accompany the gospel duo Mary Mary in the anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” The performance took place in front of the stadium, not inside, where it was shown on large video screens. A portion of the television viewership likely missed the performance, which took place 35 minutes before kickoff.

For the record:

4:06 p.m. Feb. 14, 2022A previous version of this story stated that Steve Harvey hosted the “NFL Honors” show. He hosted in 2021. Keegan Michael-Key hosted this year.

Even so, it was wonderful to see the players, in their black YOLA T-shirts and this time conducted by Thomas Wilkins, in their glory. It would have been unthinkable for the NFL to have left YOLA out, especially since all of the members happen to be from the neighborhood, and SoFi is not necessarily seen by all as a good neighbor.


The stadium has caused the predicted gentrification that is driving out longtime Black and Latino residents in what had been one of Los Angeles County’s more affordable communities. Less attention has been directed on the gargantuan carbon footprint of the gargantuan stadium, despite its stocks of energy-saving LED lights. Did you happen to notice the traffic around L.A. this weekend?

There is even less reason to feel better about the effects of the Super Bowl on climate change, when it is happy to rake in $14 million per minute from cryptocurrency television commercials. The environmental impact of mining cryptocurrency along with the mainstreaming of crypto — dubbed the new subprime by some economists — and marketing it to underserved communities, is staggeringly irresponsible. Clearly, the NFL is in need of all the karmacurrency it can get.

An orchestra on a stage
Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles rehearses in early February for its 11th annual “NFL Honors” show.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

I leave it to whoever figures these things out to calculate just how well this Super Bowl balanced the karma bank books. But NFL did further invite the Inner City Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles to be the house band for its “NFL Honors” show Thursday night. In this case, the local youth orchestra was in the pit for the entire two-hour program, supplying whatever music was needed, just as studio musicians do for the Oscars.

The nonprofit organization, one of the largest majority African American orchestras in the country, will perform at the 11th “NFL Honors” show in advance of Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium.

Feb. 8, 2022

Unfortunately both orchestras were more seen than heard on Sunday, and not seen all that much. But “Honors” host Keegan Michael-Key did give ICYOLA a rousing shout out, and YOLA was announced with all the portentous sports-announcer gravity that would accompany the introduction of a quarterback. Of course, the NFL’s karmacurrency would have risen hugely in value had the orchestras not been relegated only to accompanimental duties and the sound mix hadn’t further minimized them.

Let’s also subtract karmacoins from the account for barely showing ICYOLA’s conductor, Charles Dickerson, or YOLA’s conductor, Wilkins, on camera. These are inspirational figures as well as outstanding musicians who deserve, at very least, the respect and visibility given to football coaches.


But perhaps the most revealing feature of Super Bowl Sunday is the downright giant step between Beckmen YOLA Center and SoFi, and what they stand for. One is Frank Gehry’s radical $23 million conversion of an old bank building into a state-of-the-art concert and education center that beautifies the street around the corner from Inglewood High School. Its glass frontage is designed to show all passersby the excitement of the music-making inside.

SoFi is the largest stadium in the NFL. It’s the league’s first indoor-outdoor stadium. Learn more about its designer.

Feb. 13, 2022

Any local child can join the program. There is no cost. Many performances, once COVID-19 restrictions are eased, will be free to the public in a room that is an architectural and acoustic wonder. And the young musicians are being trained on acoustic instruments in a relatively green building.

Think what you will about the look of SoFi, which cost over 200 times more to build than the Beckmen YOLA Center. The morning of the big game, I checked the official NFL Ticketmaster’s site for any available seats. Although sold out, there were some authorized resales. Several in the nosebleeds were around $3,500. It looked like there was a very nice seat in a fancy-schmancy section with the asking price of $99,999. A second seat in that section was $180,000. Oh, yes, throw in another few grand for last-minute parking.

Many young people will dream of becoming football stars after watching the Super Bowl. Maybe one out of many millions will have a slight chance. Happily, though, some young children may be motivated to join a youth orchestra after watching the Super Bowl. In more communities all the time — thanks to the influence of YOLA and ICYOLA and, yes, the NFL — that need not be a fantasy. In return, the exchange rate for bitcoin to karma is sky-high and guaranteed to remain a stable investment for life.