Super Bowl Pregame Show Orchestrated by YSU Musicians

By Alyssa Weston

Super Bowl LIII had major Youngstown roots. In addition to two alumni on the New England Patriots, the orchestration for “America the Beautiful,” sung by Chloe x Halle during the pregame ceremony, was provided by Youngstown State University’s Dana School of Music.

Derek Dixie, a YSU alumnus and music director for Beyoncé, co-arranged and orchestrated “America the Beautiful” and asked the Dana School of Music to record a full session of the song on Jan. 11.

For the song, Dixie included a Los Angeles horn and string ensemble and nearly 30 Youngstown musicians including Dana alumni, students and staff.

Dixie, who is a former Dana student, reached out to YSU to lower the cost of the employing many musicians.

On his Facebook page, Dixie said although this was the third Super Bowl he arranged music for, this one had a special meaning to him.

“I am proud that I was able to put such an important task in the hands of my hometown,” he said. “When you hear the arrangement, I hope you will feel that every note, chord and rhythm in the orchestration means something.”

Stephen Gage, professor of conducting and director of bands and orchestra, said after contacting the performers, two rehearsals and recording sessions were arranged at Stambaugh Auditorium.

Overall, Gage was thrilled and said it was a great experience.

“[Recording the music] was a big Youngstown event, and we’re talking about the most watched television show in the world. It’s the pre-national anthem sequence in the Super Bowl, so people were watching,” he said.

Gage thought it was a great opportunity for the Dana School of Music and Youngstown as a whole, and there was hardly any pressure or stress because everybody involved as so thrilled by the opportunity.

Herbie Hunkele, a senior musical performance major, played the trumpet for the pregame show recording.

Photo courtesy of YSU News Center

Hunkele said initially Gage reached out to him for the recording session, but didn’t tell him what it was for. He was floored when he found out he would be working with Dixie and playing a part in the recording for “America the Beautiful”

In Hunkele’s opinion, this opportunity is great for the recruitment of future Dana students and just another thing that makes YSU stand out.

While watching the Super Bowl pregame, Hunkele described the experience as surreal.

“Being able to hear myself was crazy,” he said.

Although Hunkele was nervous at first, he said Dixie’s kind-hearted and genuine demeanor dissolved the initial pressure, and he gave the performance his all. Hunkele praised Dixie for choosing Youngstown to perform the music.

“He trusted in his own town to produce spectacular music,” he said.