Zein Hassanein

Without my liberal arts education, I don’t think I would be able to explore my profession as I desire. It shaped the way I ask questions.

Photo of Zein, smiling and sitting at a desk, with a houseplant in his lap.

Pronouns

he/him

Degree and Class Year

BA ’13

Hometown

Cairo, Egypt

Major

Biology and Music (double)

Extracurriculars

A Capella, Capella Nova, the Co-op

What three words would you use to describe L&C?

Warm, Shimmering, Dynamic

Job Title, Organization

Music Therapist, Temple University Hospital

Life After L&C, February 2022

Tell us about your upcoming research!

I have so many things going on these days, which is exciting, but also daunting! In my personal research, I have been exploring critical approaches to music therapy education, cultural reflexivity in inpatient psychiatric treatment, Southwest Asian/North African identity and history in music therapy, community psychology, and conflict transformation spaces. I recently organized a conversation on colonialism in mental health care and music therapy in Palestine. For this conversation, I brought together a few clinicians to discuss the challenges of practicing under occupation, limitations of Western psychology practices to Palestinian people, and the Indigenous healing practices of the region. That conversation should be coming out as a book chapter in a few months, and I am also working on a longer piece of writing, which arose out of my master’s thesis that examined the intersections of community music therapy, conflict transformation, and critical theory. It feels like I am starting to carve a name for myself as an academic, which is really validating because at many times in my journey I questioned whether there was a place for the inquiries I wanted to explore in the mainstream music therapy discourse.

Recently, my hospital’s proposal was selected to receive a large grant from the Hospital Association of Pennsylvania to provide music therapy services to frontline hospital workers confronting the chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, myself and the other music therapists on my team will be designing and implementing group sessions with health care workers, educating on ways to cope with their emotions developed during the pandemic, and how music might be able to deepen that coping. Part of the grant funds will go to developing a mindfulness/recording studio in our hospital that staff will have access to as a refuge from the challenges of the day. We are an inpatient acute psychiatric hospital with an emergency room and a crisis response center serving a high-need community, so this is really a wonderful opportunity to give back to health care workers that give so much of themselves! It’s the first time a grant like this has focused on the hospital workers rather than patients, so I am totally excited! When I was thinking about what we could accomplish with the grant, the studio just made sense. We have so many talented and creative people working with us, many of whom have never had anyone say, “Hey, do you want to write and record a song about what you’ve gone through?” Who knows what could come of that?

What got you interested in pursuing music therapy?

That’s a complicated story. The more I learn about myself, the more I feel that I have been heading toward music therapy my whole life. It began with my interest in music education. When I graduated from Lewis & Clark, I began teaching at a local community music school in North Portland called Ethos. It was a great time where I learned a lot about myself, and how important making music was to me. I was grateful for my very skill-focused music education, but I reveled in getting to explore the more personal benefits of music—such as how it can help us process emotions or normalize our thoughts. It can motivate us when other things really can’t. At Ethos, I began working with people I never may have crossed paths with otherwise. Children with cerebral palsy, neurodiverse children and adults, and at-promise youth whose schools contracted teachers from our school. I was having a blast, and learning a lot, but something was still missing. A turning point came when I worked with a family who had experienced trauma and learned that a certain Disney song had given the child courage to disclose abuse to her mother. I was so moved and wanted to help, but felt out of my depth. I didn’t know anything about trauma, really. I began looking into music therapy master’s programs soon after.

What made you want to come to Lewis & Clark?

I was a Third Culture Kid, and L&C was the only school that even knew what we were when I was applying to colleges. It truly made me feel seen. When I visited campus, it was so gorgeous, as I was not used to so much green. I loved the library! That really sold me. I also got a scholarship to sing in the choir, which sealed the deal for me. To be honest, financial aid was a large factor, and I am grateful for all the support I received.

What have you been doing since graduation?

Next year will be 10 years, so a whole lot of things! I played in a band, called White Bear Polar Tundra, with some L&C friends for a few years. We put out two albums, and we toured regionally and played locally as well. I play in a new punk band in Philadelphia now, tentatively called Herpetologists (my biology friends will be amused, I hope). I worked as a music teacher, as I mentioned, which really connected me to Portland. I ran a new media arts program for teens through the nonprofit Open Signal for a year or so before grad school. I went to graduate school at Drexel University in Philadelphia, and I am still here. I have worked with many populations: older adults, hospitalized children, inpatient psychiatry, refugees, patients in addiction therapy, and neurodiverse folks. I am just so grateful to be able to have those deep, authentic moments with people. It’s challenging work, but working in inpatient psychiatry keeps me on my toes and taps into that reflexive performer part of my identity that I enjoy using.

How did Lewis & Clark prepare you for your job/grant work?

Without my liberal arts education, I don’t think I would be able to explore my profession as I desire. It shaped the way I ask questions. Health care is an interesting field, because there are a lot of people who don’t ask questions. They almost expect things to operate in a certain way. I think having a BA in biology allowed me to function well in empiricist spaces, to work well with doctors and other clinicians, and I am grateful for that. I can do research, read studies, and understand them. Not everyone in music therapy is comfortable with those things. We come from various backgrounds in my field, but I did notice that I didn’t struggle with the statistics that we needed to understand in graduate school as much as some of my cohort who did not study liberal arts in undergraduate.

The music skills I learned at L&C helped me more than I can even articulate. Some are more important than others for clinical purposes, though you never know when singing an Italian aria might be the perfect song to reach a client. Ask Instructor of Piano Stephanie Thompson how I was as a student. I was negligent (to say the least), but I was always pretty good at filling time with semi-practiced music (a skill that still comes in handy in my day job, when learning clients preferred music on the fly). The time I did spend cultivating my theory knowledge and honing my piano playing has helped tremendously in working with my clients, contextualizing their expression in improvisations. And now I teach music therapy students piano and theory (something I would never have believed back in college).

Now that you’ve been out of college for a while, what would you say is the most important thing you learned at Lewis & Clark?

I studied Ecology and Evolution with Professor of Biology Paulette Bierzychudek. Even though I didn’t go on to work in biology as a career, I did learn a lot from the concepts—especially generalists, specialists, and the concept of a niche. I recognize that my majors did not have a lot in common with each other, which was something I struggled with after graduation. I asked myself, “What do I do with this education?” I came to the conclusion that we, as humans, all have a niche as well. Some of us may be comfortable with operating more as generalists (i.e. prescribed careers with clear objectives and a name) and there is nothing wrong with that, but I was not that. My goal since my advising meeting senior year with Professor of Music Aaron Beck was to “build a life in music,” and I initially struggled with doing that in the generalist fashion. I didn’t really want to study classical voice, or become an expert in one specific musicological subject. Nor did I think that playing in a band was sustainable. It was through examining my affinity for social work, my natural talents, my education, and my desire to make music every day that I found not just music therapy, but my own niche within it.

What was your favorite class? How did it expand your knowledge?

I spent a lot of my time in two places on campus, the practice spaces in Evans and the greenhouse behind Olin. My love of plant biology truly started in my Investigations in Ecology and Environmental Science course with Professor Bierzychudek. Growing up, my father, an agricultural engineer by training, always had a garden and we would water our plants via drip irrigation. That was my early exposure, but I didn’t really connect with plants until college. Professor Bierzychudek had so much passion for getting her hands dirty! It was so fun! She taught her students how to grow plants from seed, and watching that happen was miraculous for a desert city kid like myself. The love affair grew in Plant Biology taught by Visiting Professor of Biology Bianca Breland. I used to love going to the greenhouse on a cold day. When nobody was around, I would sing the various art songs I was preparing for vocal juries to my plants. I may have messed up some experiments there, because I was adding another variable to the environment, so I am sorry if the results were off! Plant care is still something that balances me, and it has given me a lot of comfort in the last few years.

Who was your mentor on campus? Why do you consider this person your mentor?

I had so many people who were mentors in college, but the person that I learned the most from and felt the most inspired by has to be Professor of Music Kathy FitzGibbon. I sang so much in college, in ensembles and as a soloist, and it was always challenging, rewarding, socially stimulating, and educational. Her attention to detail, charisma, and daringness were so fundamental to my musical education and how I look at my own work. At one point I was interested in pursuing choral conducting because Kathy made it such a joy to witness and participate in. I have been so proud to see the way she continues to expand the scope of what a choral director and educator can do for their students and larger community. I believe that a good mentor exudes so much passion for what they do, and they make it relevant to your own life that they can awaken the little voice inside that says, “Hey, this is amazing! This feels good! I can do this, too!”