The world of music education lost a shining star in 2019 when pianist, educator and author Forrest Kinney passed away after a brief battle with an aggressive form of cancer.
I can personally attest that Forrest was generous to his fellow teachers. I contacted him a couple years ago to ask his advice on publishing educational materials. He freely gave of his time and opinions on a long phone call, which was invaluable for me.
I was first introduced to Forrest and his work when he spoke at the Oregon Music Teachers Association annual conference a few years before that call. Forrest was entertaining and passionate about what was probably his life’s mission: to reestablish the importance of creativity in traditional music education after a lapse of more than a century.
Forrest was the author of numerous publications including the Pattern Play and Chord Play series. As a teacher who loves to teach arranging, I’ve made extensive use of the Chord Play series in particular, pending writing my own method on arranging (one of many projects for which I have not yet found time).
Chord Play consists of five books subtitled “The Art of Arranging at the Piano.” Arranging, of course, is the art of creating a unique way of playing a piece of music. The Chord Play series is a reasonably (if not totally) comprehensive introduction to arranging.
The art of arranging can be broken down into categories including melodic, rhythmic, harmonic, stylistic, and structural techniques. Chord Play surveys each of these areas – some more extensively than others.
For example, in Chord Play 1, Kinney introduces the melodic technique of adding chord tones for the right hand. Also in that book, multiple harmonic techniques are explored such as substituting, adding and subtracting tones from chords and changing chord voicings. Structural techniques in the first book include primers on introductions, fills and endings.
Chord Play is less focused on specific stylistic techniques, which would require another series of books altogether. That said, Chord Play does explain some of the most important stylistic-specific arranging techniques such as “boogie bass,” as well as offering brief tastes of arranging in ragtime, country, gospel and other popular idioms.
One of the most constructive aspects of Chord Play is the inclusion of numerous musical examples demonstrating how specific techniques can be applied.
As students progress through the series, the concepts and examples become progressively difficult (as you might hope), though Kinney does a good job of explaining new concepts by relating them to previously-introduced techniques.
The series includes material as advanced as chords with “extensions” or “tensions” such as minor ninth and dominant 13th chords, as well as the II-V-I jazz progression.
The five books in the Chord Play series are, in true Forrest Kinney style, both highly entertaining and educational. The series is most useful for intermediate and advanced pianists new to the art of arranging, due to the level of reading and playing skills necessary for understanding the concepts and playing the musical examples. One of my two minor quibbles therefore is that the books are not as accessible as they could be to first and second year students, although Kinney did create a new “Puzzle Play” series that is more oriented towards beginners.
My other quibble is that the series is not as organized and methodical as I would like. But then, Forrest was a creative soul, and right-brained creativity and left-brained organization do not always harmonize.
Rest in peace, Forrest, and thank you for your exceptional and what are sure to be enduring contributions to music education.