Music at Super Bowl 50

Here in the US, the musical performances at the Super Bowl are one of the most talked-about performances of the year. Indeed, one of this year’s pre-game TV specials focused solely on memorable halftime shows of years’ past, featuring performers such as Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson, and Bruce Springsteen. From the opening notes of the national anthem to the choice of the performer’s wardrobes, every note, stitch of clothing and dance step is endlessly scrutinized and tweeted about until everyone’s had their say.

The show’s recent trend has been towards stylistic and demographic inclusiveness. The skeptic in me suspects that this is more about making the most money possible and less about accommodating the tastes of a diverse audience; but for whatever reason, viewers now get to see several acts, from rock to pop and hip-hop. Sometimes with a few violins thrown in for “high culture.” (To give the event its due, however, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that one of the early Super Bowls was the first time a racially-mixed marching band appeared on American TV, back in the 1960s.)

First, a “fun fact:” the performers do not get paid to perform during the halftime show. I’ll let you gather your own thoughts about this and only add that since millions more viewers tune in for the halftime show than for the actual game, someone other than the artists are making a whole lot of money on this deal. (Imagine if they asked the football players to play for free? For “exposure?”)

The 2016 show opened with none other than Lady Gaga singing the Star-Spangled Banner. Musicians divide themselves into 2 opposing camps about the proper interpretation of this song. One side feels that it’s unpatriotic to embellish the song while the other side prefers to hear the singer add vocal riffs and embellishments. Lady Gaga gave a wonderfully well-thought-out performance that found the balance between the two sides. I thought she put her own stamp on the song while staying respectful to the original melody and patriotic spirit of the moment. And hats off to Alex Smith, who provided a sparkling piano accompaniment. He played a strong, sensitive piano part that combined a traditional approach with a few gospel chords for a contemporary touch.

The halftime show featured Coldplay, Beyoncé, and Bruno Mars. While I did enjoy the show, it seemed a little dull in concept. This was mainly because Coldplay isn’t as “hot” as they once were and Beyoncé and Mars have performed at the Super Bowl before. The show’s producers were clearly in “retro mode” because the performance culminated in a video look back at past shows, with clips of Whitney Houston, Prince, others making appearances. Even though I enjoyed the show, it seemed a little “forced.”

Someone at the party where I watched the game said that they book the performers 3 years ahead of time. I don’t know if this is true, but if it is, this would explain the “hit or miss” effect of the annual show. I thought that now, in February 2016, they should have featured Justin Beiber and Skrillex. That would have been culturally relevant, a little cutting-edge, and the crowd would have gone crazy! But I did like the fact that they featured student musicians playing brass and stringed instruments. A reminder of the importance of music education and that classical music still exists(!) (Even so, the Grammys do this better when they team up Metallica and Lang Lang, for example.)

As for the game itself; wow!!! One of the best ever. The Broncos defense played better than any team I can remember as it strove to give quarterback Peyton Manning a Super Bowl win as his career “swan song.” This was the real show on the field last night!

If you’re intrigued about piano improv but don’t know how to get started, send me a quick email at [email protected]. I’ve helped many pianists learn to express themselves without always relying on written sheet music and I can help you too, in an easy, gradual way.

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