The day after the big game in Santa Clara, Charlotte and Denver weren't the only cities welcoming home Super Bowl participants with fanfare. In downtown Los Angeles Monday evening, a crowd of reporters, news crews and cheering friends and family gathered outside Walt Disney Concert Hall to greet a group of teenagers from the Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles who performed with Coldplay, Beyoncé and Bruno Mars during the Super Bowl halftime show on Sunday.

The YOLA teens were met with cheers and chants of “YOLA! YOLA! YOLA!” by tearful parents and grandparents as they spilled out of a charter bus wearing matching red and blue jackets emblazoned with the Super Bowl 50 logo. Reporters with microphones and bright lights swooped in to interview the young orchestra members and their families.

“Did you meet Beyoncé?”

“I hugged her. I hugged Beyoncé,” 15-year-old violinist Israel Natareno explained matter-of-factly. “It was like a one-time opportunity, so I took the chance.”

“I told her ‘You did amazing!’ And she said thank you!” Gizelle Polanco, a 14-year-old cellist exclaimed. 

Credit: Photo by Catherine Womack

Credit: Photo by Catherine Womack

After photos, the YOLA kids and their families were greeted by Los Angeles Philharmonic president and CEO Deborah Borda and music director Gustavo Dudamel. Dudamel led the kids during their Sunday performance in front of millions of TV viewers and a huge Super Bowl crowd. As he took the microphone to speak Monday night, he was bombarded by cries of, “Gustavo, we love you!”

“I love you too,” the Venezuelan conductor responded with a huge smile. “I feel so proud. I’m like a father, feeling that my heart wants to explode [with] this beautiful feeling, this beautiful emotion. So let’s keep doing what we do.”

Diana Melgar, an 18-year-old cellist, was impressed by how much work goes into putting on a Super Bowl halftime show. She and her orchestra-mates arrived in Santa Clara last Tuesday and spent all week preparing for Sunday’s performance. “We had rehearsals every day. They were long. It’s a big production. There are a lot of people involved, way more than I expected. You know, you watch it on TV, but you don’t realize how much goes on behind the scenes and how many people it takes to produce it. It was mind-blowing.” 

Gustavo Dudamel was there.; Credit: Photo by Catherine Womack

Gustavo Dudamel was there.; Credit: Photo by Catherine Womack

Like many of her friends, Diana was most excited to meet Chris Martin. “I love him so much!” her sister Kelly Melgar, who also plays cello, squealed.

“Coldplay is my favorite band so I was just like yyyyeeeeeee!!!!,” violist Maggy Hernandez beamed.

They may have just performed on one of the world’s biggest stages, but these musicians — most of whom come from working class families and practice classical music diligently every day to be apart of YOLA — are typical teens who really just want to have fun and bond with their friends.

With his arms around a group of fellow string players, 17-year-old cellist Juan Carlos Guzman Mones explained, “The most important part is that we did all this with our friends. The journey. Just the hard work that we all put in. These people aren’t just peers, they are friends that we care about. This experience brought us all together. I love these people. I can honestly say I love them all. They’re my family. They’re my YOLA family. I cried so many times.”

Juan Carlos wasn’t the only one with tears in his eyes. As 14-year-old Maggy Hernandez eloquently explained the importance of YOLA to a reporter, her mom observed her with pride. “The best part of YOLA is that you get a lot of amazing experiences and you get to grow as a musician,” Maggy explained. “But you also grow as a human being. You get to know what’s around you. I think playing an instrument really brings that out in you because it makes you more curious about the world.” 

Her mom teared up. “I cried when I saw her on TV. I’m still crying! It’s a lot of emotions.”

“As long as we get to keep playing with YOLA and we always stay friends,” Juan Carlos said, “I’m happy. But I mean, if Beyoncé wants us on tour, well …”

As he trailed off, his fellow YOLA friends burst into laughter and the red-and-blue-clad group embraced in a big hug. Again.

The Broncos may have taken home the trophy Sunday, but this musical team, supported by a proud coach, loving families and supportive teammates, is riding a winning high. 

LA Weekly