Music for Surviving a Pandemic: Faculty Edition

| May 28, 2020

Some tunes Trojan engineering professors are listening to in this time of self-isolation

quarantine playlistThese are turbulent times. Faculty at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, just like students, have moved back to their homes to continue the work of higher education. Even their wisdom and experience does not always prepare them for the difficulties of this time. Many have found music to be an excellent pathway to personal understanding and calm.

Take a look at a few songs that Trojan professors have hand-picked for you. Hopefully, they can provide some comfort, relief, or joy in these uncertain times.

Also, you can check out some of the USC Viterbi student quarantine playlists here.

quarantine playlistNoah Malmstadt

Professor, Mork Family Department of Chemical Engineering & Materials Science

“This is the Law of the Plague” – Diamanda Galas

quarantine playlist




Galas wrote this song in response to the AIDS crisis, soon after her brother’s death from AIDS. It’s worth being reminded that this isn’t the first plague that we have been through.

View Dr. Malmstadt’s full playlist below:


quarantine playlistKelly Sanders

Dr. Teh Fu Yen Early Career Chair and Associate Professor, Sonny Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

“Lean on Me” – Bill Withers


quarantine playlist


I chose to start the playlist with “Lean on Me” because it’s a hopeful song that reminds us that in this time of physical distancing, it is still important to lean on our support networks, even more than usual. Unfortunately, Withers died of heart complications in early April during the pandemic, making it even more meaningful. I ended the list with Lizzo’s “Good as Hell” because no matter how down I feel, it always makes me drop everything and dance with my labradoodle, Joules!

View Dr. Sanders’s full playlist below:


quarantine playlistGeorge Ban-Weiss

Pasquale and Adelina Arpea Early Career Chair and Associate Professor, Sonny Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

“Lilac Moon” – Paco Versailles

quarantine playlist




My happiest days are the ones that I turn off the news and turn on the tunes. These songs have helped me get through this time. They’re especially fun to listen to with headphones while dancing around my living room, silent disco style. Fun fact: I play the bass on “Lilac Moon!”

View Dr. Ban-Weiss’s full playlist below:


Helen Choi

Lecturer, Engineering Writing Program

“Alright” – Kendrick Lamar

Young people sing “Alright” during social protests against police brutality, to lift each other up in scary situations. I admire them so much. Music is a transformative salve that can make us braver, kinder and more resilient. When we listen together, we build shared experiences and stronger communities.

View Prof. Choi’s full playlist below:


Chris Kyriakakis

Associate Professor, Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

“Hotel California” – The Eagles




In audio signal processing, it either sounds right or it doesn’t. It may take some listening training to be able to hear some finer details of various algorithms, but in the end it comes down to just listening. We create a database of content that covers various aspects of audio: envelopment, localization, timbre, coloration, distortion. Then we listen to these for hours (sometimes years) over perfectly calibrated audio systems in acoustically treated rooms until they are burned in our auditory memory. “Hotel California” is by far the most played demonstration song in the history of Hi-Fi. The percussion that starts at 0:32 tests the low frequency capability of speaker systems, and the vocals starting at 2:08 immediately tell us if we have a system that adds unwanted coloration.

View Dr. Kyriakakis’s full playlist below:


Elizabeth Arnold Weiss

Associate Professor of Practice, Engineering Writing Program

“Let’s Live for Today” – The Grass Roots




Stuck in quarantine, my brother began texting me old pictures of us in places all over the world, from when we traveled as college students overseas. One was from a chance meeting with the Gypsy Kings at a café in Barcelona, another from a new year’s parade in Beijing, then a U2 concert in Berlin. Before mobile phones and zoom, we found friends and live music everywhere, and every day was an adventure. The Grass Roots song captures how we felt—carefree, curious, and fundamentally connected by our roots. These memories helped me gain perspective on the current situation.

View Prof. Weiss’s full playlist below:


 Brad Cracchiola

Lecturer, Sonny Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

“Choice is Yours” – Stick Figure ft. Slightly Stoopid




I get into a lot of different musical styles, but usually get heavily into one vibe for a couple of weeks at a time. But whatever I am listening to usually has some jazz, reggae or ska roots to it. Right now I am definitely in a reggae flow. I miss the ocean, and the reggae takes me there. Just listen to “Choice is Yours” and you will feel the warm sand of a tropical beach between your toes.

View Prof. Cracchiola’s full playlist below:


Jennifer Treweek

WiSE Gabilan Assistant Professor, Department of Biomedical Engineering

“Dancing with Myself” – Billy Idol



Some of my old ballet friends (e.g., Stella Abrera at American Ballet Theatre) went on to become professional dancers, so I stay connected to the ballet world. Given that major companies’ ballet season is late January through May, the quarantine has been devastating to them. To pass the time and stay motivated, many of the ABT company dancers have been hosting daily “barre classes” on their Instagrams, which I have been taking to make up for gym and trail closures. Long story short, this has bled over into my “work music”—lots of Prokofiev (“Cinderella,” “Romeo and Juliet” ballets) and Tchaikovsky (“Swan Lake”). The one song that might encapsulate my quarantine state-of-mind would be Billy Idol’s “Dancing With Myself!”

View Dr. Treweek’s full playlist below:


Charles Radovich

Associate Professor, Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering

“12 Hour Brown Noise” – Ambient relaxation




For me, this is the ultimate noise blocker; useful for when I need to think and write. It’s not a catchy tune. It’s not a song at all. I use it to just block out the world and concentrate.


Want all these songs in one place? Check out an overall playlist you can follow on Spotify here:

Published on May 28th, 2020

Last updated on May 28th, 2020

Share this Story