In His Own Words: Educator and Pianist Forrest Kinney on Living, Dying, and Accepting

UPDATE:  Forrest Kinney died 12/08/2019.  He will be missed by friends and fans all over the world.

For decades (and in over 40 books and collections of musical compositions), Forrest Kinney taught classical pianists to break away from the prison of the written notes and improvise our own paths.  When he was diagnosed with incurable blood cancer, Kinney shared these words with his friends on Facebook (and gave me permission to post it on my blog)--once again teaching us to improvise, only this time courageously creating life in the face of death.  Here, in his own words, is Forrest Kinney's beautiful formula for living, dying, and accepting:

After fracturing my back in February, I was not healing. So I went to the hospital in April. After being diagnosed with blood cancer, I decided to try chemotherapy. The day after I began, I suffered kidney failure and nearly died. (I will spare you the rather gruesome details!) So, I agreed to do dialysis and some transfusions. For weeks, I felt like a breathing corpse. The pain was, at times, hard to bear. The doctors said I would be on dialysis every other day for a year with no prospect of a cure. So, I made the extremely difficult decision to end all treatment and let nature run its course. After all, in trying to stay alive, I had taken a course that had killed all quality of life and had hastened my death. I finally accepted this.
So, three weeks ago, I moved to a beautiful hospice facility in Seattle to die in peace. And then something strange began to happen. The staff members here are all buoyant angels who embody the deeply compassionate side of humanity, the food is delicious and is restoring my strength and my desire to eat, and the pain medications actually work. Within a week, I began to feel so much better, and began to really enjoy all my visitors. I opened my laptop and began working on finishing a book. I began to learn to play an exquisite lap harp and experience the incredible beauty of making music again.
A few weeks ago, I thought I would be ashes by now, but I am living a surprisingly rich life, even though I’m in bed all day. In accepting that the treatments were not working for me, I allowed deeper treatments to begin to do their work. In letting myself die, I have been coming back to life. Because of the advanced stage of the cancer, I will still probably die soon, but I have experienced so much beauty and love at the end.
I wanted to assure you that this final act has been a time of comfort and joy. I also wanted to share what I have learned: when we accept “what is” and act accordingly, when we quit trying to force our lives to be what they are not, life can unfold in a shockingly beautiful way.

Thank you Forrest for teaching us that there's beauty and joy in everything, even in letting go.  May God bless you on your journey.  

Forrest Kinney is an educator who has taught music for over four decades.  He is a Nationally Certified Teacher of Music (NCTM) as recognized by the Music Teacher's National Association (MTNA).  His goal it to help others become creative, whole musicians capable of enjoying the Four Arts of Music: improvising, arranging, composing, and interpreting. He is the author of 40 books and collections of musical compositions.  This includes the original Pattern Play series on musical improvisation, the newer Pattern Play series published by the Royal Conservatory of Music, and the newest Pattern Play-based series called Create First!.  He has also written two series on arranging: the new Puzzle Play series and the Chord Play series published by the Royal Conservatory of Music.  His book Creativity--Beyond Compare explores common misconceptions about creativity and artistic practice.  Music-Creativity-Joy  is a collection of 105 essays and article about teaching the Four Arts of Music.  His latest book is the Quick Chord Course, an introduction to playing the 32 most popular chords.  

To learn more about Forrest Kinney and to order copies of his publications and compositions, visit his website Forrest Kinney


Anonymous said…
Hi Rhonda, thank you for publishing these beautiful thoughts from Forrest. I didn't know him well, but attended one of his workshops for the music teachers association. I found him a beautiful person, inside and out, and these paragraphs confirm that. I hope that he confounds the doctors and continues to create far into the future.
Rhonda Rizzo said…
Thank you for your comment. I have had quite a bit of feedback from people who have been touched by Forrest’s life and work. He is a remarkable man.
Thank you for sharing this. I had no idea he was ill. I only recently discovered him last fall. I'm a piano teacher who feels passionate about improvisation and I'm working to create resources and awareness to get more people using their pianos creatively. For this reason, I really look up to Forrest Kinney. I've seen him in a few online video interviews, and I love his resources. It really saddens me to know that he may not be around much longer.
Rhonda Rizzo said…
Forrest is a gifted man who has touched many lives. He will be missed.
Eve M said…
I met Forrest in a few workshops in Kitchener Ontario
He changed the way I thought about improvising
He captivated everyone

We felt so fortunate to have him in our midst

He Impressed everyone he met yet he was humble

He will be terribly missed
I had no idea he was ill and the world has lost a lovely kind considerate man ,gifted musician and special person
Rhonda Rizzo said…
Eve, thank you for your comment. His generosity and spirit will be missed by all of us.
Katina said…
This comment is addressed to anyone who still visits this page, to mourn and to honor Forrest’s legacy. My name is Katina and Forrest was my former piano mentor. I love him dearly and he’s been my inspiration to continue his legacy through the art of piano improvisation. I remember seeing him one last time; when he came over to my house and was sitting on the piano bench, giving me a list of pieces to practice, and at that time, I was much younger and an unmotivated musician. At that time, I didn’t put much effort into saying goodbye, as I was young, careless, and unconcerned. However, now that I’m 15 years old, I wish more than ever, to hear his music, to improvise with him, and to see him once again. Forrest has deeply impacted my life by teaching me - I met him when I was very young - taking piano lessons and was expected to play classical pieces. However, I rejected all of those teachings. It was then that my then piano instructor informed my mother of Forrest. He used to teach me in a rented space that he has dubbed “the magic piano room”, or so I believe - it was a long time ago and my memory is a bit fuzzy. A few months ago, after a very long period of silence between me and Forrest, I asked my mother to reach out to him - completely oblivious to the fact that he was fighting for his life. It was quite recent that I’d learned of his death, and I’ll never, ever, ever be the same again - he’s been a huge influencer in my life and by reaching out to him, I was hoping for him to once again undertake me as his pupil - to guide me in my musical career because currently, I am lost and only have his teachings to rely on. If anyone knows where he was laid to rest, please tell me - it is my duty as his student to pay respects to him. He is the most amazing man ever and by finding out of his death, my heart was shattered and now I, like many of you all, bear a pit in my heart; a pit that Forrest illuminated with his enchanting music and bright personality - he was truly an amazing man. Thank you, Forrest, for everything that you have done for me, and I will never ever forget you or your teachings.
Rhonda Rizzo said…
Katina, this is a beautiful and loving tribute to a great man and gifted teacher. Thank you for sharing your experience with the rest of us who had our lives touched by Forrest and his legacy.

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