We got the beat: New course tunes into music

Popular music course established in memory of an alum will be taught by a visiting artist or scholar

August 14, 2017

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Michael Bonanomi
After his graduation, Michael Bonanomi (Stevenson '02, history) learned to perform music from a variety of generes. Photo courtesy of Michael Bonanomi Foundation

In what promises to be a popular course, UC Santa Cruz students will soon have an opportunity to satisfy general education requirements by studying popular music with professional musicians.

Beginning spring quarter 2018, the Music Department will offer a series of classes on popular music to be taught by a visiting artist or scholar. The first iteration will capitalize on the music of iconic band the Grateful Dead and the Grateful Dead Archive now housed in McHenry Library’s Special Collections and Archives.

The inspiration and funding for the visiting artist program come from the Michael Bonanomi Foundation, named for alumnus Michael Bonanomi (Stevenson ’02, history), who was devoted to music of all kinds.

“Two passions for him were his love of UC Santa Cruz and his love of music,” says Michael’s mother, Eve Bonanomi. “He would be so excited that we are doing this in Santa Cruz.”

A legacy of support for music

In 2013 Michael Bonanomi died after being struck by a speeding car. Eve Bonanomi and Michael’s father, Bob Bonanomi, wanted to do something positive in his memory. They founded the Michael Bonanomi Foundation, which funds music education and provides aid to working musicians.

Michael believed music has a profound beneficial effect on society, Eve Bonanomi says. He enjoyed all music, especially jazz. He and his friends were also big fans of the Grateful Dead.

“For him and his friends it was a joyful thing,” Eve Bonanomi says. “He would say, ‘If I’m happy I play music, or if I’m sad I play music. It lifts me up or I spread my joy.’”

Putting the Dead in context

The grant funds a visiting artist for one quarter each year, during which they will teach two courses. One course, open to all majors, will provide general education credit and will focus on the cultural and historical influences of the music. An additional upper-division class will give music majors an opportunity to do hands-on archival work. Each year, the courses will focus on a different topic in popular music.

Music Department Chair Dard Neuman expects a Grateful Dead researcher will lead the inaugural quarter. He plans to bring in Bay Area musicians to teach future courses.

“The class will invite students to enjoy the Grateful Dead and understand where this enjoyment might come from critically, historically, culturally,” Neuman says.

Michael Bonanomi would be especially pleased that the popular music classes will begin with a focus on UC Santa Cruz’s Grateful Dead Archive, his mother says.

“He would be just so excited and thrilled knowing that the archive is there,” she says. “He went to as many Grateful Dead concerts as he could go to. Even when he was younger and shouldn’t have.”