Beverly Glenn-Copeland: Better Late Than Never

Interview by Frédéric Cardin

Keyboard Fantasies by Beverly Glenn-Copeland is a masterpiece revealed at least… 30 years later!

Genres and styles : Ambient / Electronic / Experimental Dream Pop

Additional Information

(Photo: Juri Hiensch)

A hundred or so cassette copies of a 1986 ambient album Keyboard Fantasies had been sitting in a dark corner for almost 30 years when a Japanese collector and record store owner found themselves selling the precious artefacts to other music lovers in just a few days. The composer, Beverly Glenn-Copeland, had never sold more than 50 of the 150 originally printed. Since then, it’s not only the brilliantly inspired and personal music of a little-known artist that’s making the buzz around the world, but it’s above all the discovery of a human being of great beauty, a sincere humanist, a courageous but never bitter trans man faced with a sometimes difficult past, a music lover with a capital M, eager for all that is beautiful and good, from jazz to classical, African, Indian, folk, electro, pop, etc., who has been a great inspiration for many years. A sudden fame he didn’t expect, but to which he adapts with elegance, as witnessed by the documentary Keyboard Fantasies: The Beverly Glenn-Copeland Story, presented at Pop Montréal on September 23. A must-see. As a complement, here is an intimate interview with the artist.

PAN M 360: How did the pieces of Keyboard Fantasies come to life in your mind before they were played and engraved on the album?

Beverly Glenn-Copeland: I’ll probably never know! Once I knew how to work with those first computers, and had the right equipment (Yamaha DX-7 and Roland TR-707 keyboards), everything came out of me very fast! It’s like music was flowing through me. It came out exactly as you hear it. First and only takes!

PAN M 360: The listener is almost literally in your head! What else was there in that teeming brain?

Beverly Glenn-Copeland: I was definitely hearing an orchestra in my mind. An orchestra I was replicating with two synthesizers. That informed the structure of the pieces.

PAN M 360: You have a strong musical background, based on solid classical studies, parents who are musicians and music lovers, but also a personal interest in music in general. What influences were the most active in your mind when you created Keyboard Fantasies?
Beverly Glenn-Copeland: Everything I had heard, loved, and absorbed as a music lover at that time kind of fused together in this big soup of artistic inspiration. Classical music was there, of course, it never left me. But everything else was there somewhere, jazz, traditional world music, folk, pop, etc.

PAN M 360 : The album dates back to 1986, and until 2015 there were only a few dozen cassette copies left somewhere in your house. Then a Japanese record store contacted you, sold all your remaining copies in three days, and the rest is history. But history in the making! The international wave of new fans, mainly composed of young people in their twenties and thirties, is growing all the time. Why do you think Keyboard Fantasies is so relevant to young people today?

Beverly Glenn-Copeland: I think the message that is transmitted in my pieces, the environment, the beauty of the world and identifying with something greater than our ethnicity, nationality, sexuality or whatever, I think the new generation wants and needs to hear it. Maybe we never had so much need of it, in fact. 

PAN M 360: What are your thoughts on the documentary Keyboard Fantasies: The Beverly Glenn-Copeland Story, directed by Posy Dixon?

Beverly Glenn-Copeland: That was a fantastic experience! Posy was very spontaneous about it, even though she was well organized, of course. I think it was more of an exploration for her. She built the narrative and basic structure of the film as she was spending time with me and the musicians. The result is wonderful, very sincere, very fresh.

PAN M 360: Let’s take a look back at your studies at Montreal’s McGill University in the 1960s, fresh from your native Philadelphia. In retrospect, what was it that gave you the most difficulty, being Black or being, at the time, a lesbian?

Beverly Glenn-Copeland: Being Black never was an issue for me. It may have been very different if I’d attended an American college of the same nature, meaning mostly white in a white community. But not McGill. The faculty was a very open environment. Difficulties had more to do with my being lesbian, and especially so open about it. You have to understand that I was living in a dormitory. It was mandatory for every young woman coming from outside Montreal at the time. The promiscuity, combined with my very in-your-face lifestyle, shocked some people, and I had to move out of the dormitory, even if it was not permitted. But I don’t hold grudges. I am very happy with who I am and I cherish most memories from this wonderful part of my life. I in fact still love Montreal very much, as my wife does also. We feel good there.

PAN M 360: Classical music remains a fundamental part of your inspiration and even your personality. What listening suggestions would you offeryour new audience, if they want to draw from the same (classical) musical source as you?

Beverly Glenn-Copeland: Anything for piano by Chopin, Schubert’s lieder, Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder, Orff’s Carmina Burana (those lyrics!), Debussy, and anything played by Martha Argerich!

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