bearded man with glasses seated with hands on table

As finals week quickly approaches here at Chapman, Dean Giulio Ongaro of the College of Performing Arts has compiled a playlist of instrumental music for students to use as a soundtrack when studying for exams. Studies have shown that the benefits of music-listening range from physical and mental relaxation to improved concentration and recall, especially in the case of instrumental works. The new “Study Hour with the Dean” public playlist is available to enjoy now on Spotify.

Ongaro, a musicologist, was very deliberate in his choices. “I was asked to select instrumental music only and, obviously, I could have picked hours of stuff I like, but I wanted to have music that has some meaning to me,” he said. Read on about the composers, their music, and reasons he chose them for the new playlist:


The very first piece, the Schmelzer, is my favorite “chill” piece when I am stressed. It’s so simple and yet it really has something special. The other seventeenth-century pieces are there because I love the century and I think it is still underappreciated. Note for example the Fontana violin sonata, which is typically dramatic and reminiscent of the vocal pieces of the time.

I put in Vivaldi because I am from Venice (as Vivaldi was), and I do think that, overused as his music is, he has a lot of inventiveness in re-working a basic framework.

The Schubert piano trio is there because I think it is one of the most gorgeous chamber music pieces ever written. Bonus: it is performed by Heifetz and Piatigorsky, two giants of the music world.

There are three pieces by Beethoven that have important connections to moments in my life, and if you have not heard the Rasumosky quartet, listen to how playful and innovative Beethoven was!

Brahms is there because as a kid I saw a movie that was called Aimez-vous Brahms where this particular movement was used and I loved it right away.  I still love Brahms’ music.

Mendelssohn, Italian Symphony. Need I say more? I used to play this piece in my mind when I was running. If you want to up your pace, pick the fourth movement…

Debussy and Stravinsky: two faces of the quest for new ideas, premiered within three years of one another. One ethereal, beautifully breaking rules of composition, the other hitting us with the force of an imagined primitive Russia.

I adore Bartók and the movement here is great, alternating moods, sophisticated, playful, then lush and romantic.

The two instrumental pieces by Bach are here for specific reasons: the E-flat sonata was on my senior recital. And Brandenburg 4th is a piece I worked on a lot with my recorder. I love the first movement and the interplay of recorders and violin.

Copland: this section of Appalachian Spring is so well-known and to me it sort of embodies something of the American spirit.

Finally, John Adams, a composer whom I like a lot, and one of John Cage’s pieces for prepared piano (if you don’t know what that is, Google it). It was an amazing moment for me when I discovered Cage’s pieces when I was an undergraduate. Who knew you could do that?