Honored on screen and sound, Beverly Glenn-Copeland, a messenger whose time is now


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Beverly glenn-copeland

Alex Sturrock / RP Tribune

Beverly Glenn-Copeland, or Glenn as her friends call her, likens herself to a radio tuned to pick up certain frequencies. These ideas and sounds, which generally defy classification, come to him through what he calls the “universal delivery system.” He sees his role simply as receiving them and transcribing them, then returning them to the world in the form of music.

Born in 1944, Copeland grew up in a planned, racially integrated Philadelphia community known as the Greenbelt Knoll. Her father was a pianist and her mother sang spirituals. Copeland left at age 17 to study classical music at McGill University in Montreal. He was the only black student in the program and identified as a lesbian at a time when transgender identity was neither well understood nor accepted.

Concerned for his safety, his parents tried to get him treated with electric shocks. Instead, Copeland dropped out of school and started writing songs. He released two eponymous albums in the early 1970s, most of the songs recorded in single takes. His first, the inflected folk Beverly copeland, also revealed elements of his classical training, in particular his training in German lieder.

Its follow-up, Beverly glenn-copeland, reflected his move to Toronto and his interest in the city’s vibrant jazz scene. Produced by Doug “Dr. Music” Riley, and supported by accomplished band mates such as guitarist Lenny Breau, Copeland began to find his creative niche. However, the music was difficult to categorize, and therefore difficult to market.

Copeland moved to rural Ontario and got a job creating music for children’s television. Then he got his hands on an Atari computer and a drum machine, an experience he describes in the new documentary. Keyboard fantasies as a liberator. “I suddenly, for the first time in my life, had access to wild sounds that a piano couldn’t make, that a traditional acoustic instrument couldn’t do, plus I had access to things that almost looked like a violin if you squinted very hard with your ears. It was like finding toys. “

In 1986, Copeland self-released a cassette tape album of meditative songs called Keyboard fantasies. At the time, he only sold a few dozen copies. But over the next three decades, his music quietly circulated around the world. In 2015, Japanese collector Ryota Masuko contacted Copeland, explaining that discovering his music was “an emotional experience” and asking if he had any stock copies to sell. What Copeland didn’t know was that Masuko was very influential, prompting inquiries from several labels who have since re-released. Keyboard fantasies as well as other Copeland recordings.

British filmmaker Posy Dixon says she heard for the first time Keyboard fantasies in 2017. “I remember the sound of Glenn’s voice so clearly and thinking to myself, wow, who is this, what is that music? And I also remember thinking, I have no idea if it’s someone from the contemporary era, someone from the 70s, if it’s a man, if it’s a woman. ” Dixon began searching for more music online, only to eventually find Copeland himself.As their friendship deepened, Copeland realized that the best way to connect with his audience was to meet them.

Although he hasn’t been on stage in years, Bianca Palmer says the first time she saw Copeland perform at Sappyfest in New Brunswick, Canada, she was in awe. “This music is so much his own acceptance of himself, and just like incredible listening in relation to his body, the world and nature itself.”

In the years that followed, Copeland had embraced his trans identity and began to practice Buddhism. Palmer says it was clear he was there to share more than his music. “He just thanked our generation for caring about this world. Everyone was shedding tears.”

After the show, Copeland came to see Palmer play drums with his own band, then invited them to form a multiracial and mixed ensemble, which he dubbed Indigo Rising. They embarked on a tour across Europe, playing a number of dates before the pandemic suspended live performances.

Thinking back to their time together, Palmer remembers, “We have so much to learn from him, so much to catch up.”

Dixon filmed Copeland and Indigo Rising on The Guess Who? Festival in the Netherlands for his documentary Keyboard Fantasies: The Beverly Glenn-Copeland Story, now streaming and showing at festivals. Dixon says she didn’t just shine the spotlight on an overlooked talent, but on a figure that is in many ways transcendent.

“Glenn’s story has so many elements that connect with so many people,” Dixon says. “His position as a senior, queer elder, queer elder of color who lives this rich, beautiful, calm and successful life is such a powerful vision.”

Among the artists who cite Copeland as a source of inspiration, there is Le Guess Who? Co-Commissioners Moor Mother and Devendra Banhart, Caribou, Four Tet, Moses Sumney and Blood Orange. Another, singer and cellist Kelsey Lu, says she believes Copeland’s legacy is only beginning to materialize.

“There’s that feeling of love that I think all of us, as fans, really feel,” Lu said. “And I also think we don’t have as many elders to admire that way as Glenn sees himself as someone who has been unapologetically himself through time, and has been able to exist, survive and prosper. “

Last summer, together with electronic musician Asma Maroof and filmmaker Wu Tsang, Lu honored Copeland with a collaborative multimedia installation at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. Lu is now a contributor to Keyboard fantasies reinvented, a tribute album that draws on the unlimited soundscapes of Copeland, which will be released next month.

Last year, Copeland told NPR’s Ari Shapiro that he is grateful that young people are embracing his music and his message, although he humbly claims he is just the medium of these cosmic transmissions. “It’s good to know that the music sent to me makes a difference to people in one way or another. And yes, that means I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing right now.”

Copyright 2021 NPR. To learn more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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