Beverly Glenn-Copeland, or Glenn, as friends call him, compares himself to a radio tuned to certain frequencies. These ideas and sounds, which normally cannot be classified, come to him via what he calls the “Universal Broadcast System”. He sees his role only in receiving it, transcribing it and then sending it back into the world as music.
Copeland was born in 1944 and grew up in a planned racially integrated community in Philadelphia known as Greenbelt Knoll. His father was a pianist and his mother sang spirituals. Copeland left to study classical music at McGill University in Montreal at the age of 17. He was the only black student on 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 have him treated with electroconvulsive therapy. Instead, Copeland dropped out of school and started writing songs. He released two self-titled albums in the early 1970s, many of the songs recorded in single takes. His first, the popular one Beverly Copeland, also revealed elements of his classical training, especially his German background Songs.
His 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 bandmates like the guitarist Lenny Breau, Copeland began to find his creative base. Still, the music was difficult to categorize and therefore difficult to market.
Copeland moved to rural Ontario and created a job Music for children’s television. Then he got his hands on an Atari computer and drum machine, an experience that he describes in the new documentation Tastaturfantasien as liberating. “All of a sudden, for the first time in my life, I had access to wild sounds that a piano couldn’t make, that a traditional acoustic instrument couldn’t make, and I had access to things that sounded almost like a violin when you squint would be really hard on your ears. It was like finding toys. “
In 1986, Copeland released a cassette album of meditative songs called Tastaturfantasien. He only sold a few dozen copies at the time. But for the next three decades, his music circulated quietly around the world. In 2015, Japanese collector Ryota Masuko reached out to Copeland, explaining that discovering his music was “an emotional experience,” and asked if he had any stocks for sale. What Copeland didn’t know was that Masuko was very influential and sparked inquiries from several labels that have been reissuing since then Tastaturfantasien as well as other Copelands other recordings.
British filmmaker Posy Dixon says she heard it for the first time Tastaturfantasien in 2017. “I can remember the sound of Glenn’s voice so clearly and just say, wow, who is this, what is this music? And I also remember thinking: I have no idea if this is someone from the present, someone from the 70s, if this is a man, if this is a woman. ” Dixon started looking for more music on the internet and eventually found Copeland himself. As their friendship deepened, Copeland realized that the best way to connect with your audience is to meet them.
Despite not having appeared on stage in years, Bianca Palmer said when she first saw Copeland at Sappyfest in New Brunswick, Canada, she was impressed. “This music is so much of his own acceptance of himself, and just like an incredible listening to his body and the world and nature itself.”
In the meantime, Copeland had assumed his trans identity and began to practice Buddhism. Palmer says it was clear he was here to share more than just his music. “He just thanked our generation for looking after this world. Everyone just dripped with tears. “
After the show, Copeland came out to see Palmer play drums with her own band, and then invited them to form an all-gender multiracial ensemble he called Indigo Rising. They went on a tour of Europe and played a number of dates before the pandemic disrupted live performances.
Looking back on their time together, Palmer recalls: “We have so much to learn from him, so much to catch up on.”
Dixon filmed Copeland and Indigo Rising in one appearance das 2018 Le Guess Who? Festival in the Netherlands for her documentary Keyboard Fantasies: The Beverly Glenn Copeland Story, now streaming and screening at festivals. Dixon says she shed the spotlight not only on an overlooked talent, but on a character who is transcendent in many ways.
“Glenn’s story has so many elements that relate to so many people,” says Dixon. “His position as an elder, a queer elder, as a queer colored man who leads this rich, beautiful, quiet, prosperous life is such a powerful vision.”
Artists citing Copeland as inspiration include Le Guess Who? Co-curators Moor Mother and Devendra Banhart, Welcome, Four Tet, Moses Sumney and Blood Orange. Another, singer and cellist Kelsey Lu, says they believe Copeland’s legacy is only just beginning to become a reality.
“I think we all as fans really feel that feeling of love,” says Lu. “And I also think we don’t have as many elders that Glenn looks up to as someone who has stuck to himself with no excuse over time and has been able to exist and survive and thrive.”
Last summer, Lu honored Copeland in collaboration with electronic musician Asma Maroof and filmmaker Wu Tsang Copeland a collaborative multimedia installation at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Now Lu is one of the contributors Keyboard fantasies reinvented, a tribute album based on Copeland’s limitless soundscapes, due out next month.
Last year, Copeland said NPR’s Ari Shapiro He is grateful that young people are embracing his music and message – although he humbly claims that he is only the medium for these cosmic transmissions. “It’s good to know that the music that is sent to me makes a difference to people in one way or another. And yes, that means that I am fulfilling what I am supposed to do at this point in time. “
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