“Welcome the spring, the summer rain," Beverly Glenn-Copeland sang in 1986, “softly turned to sing again.” The song was Ever New, recorded with an Atari computer and a Roland TR-707 drum machine in a cabin in the woods north of Huntsville, Ont. It was the first song off Keyboard Fantasies, an elegant album of folk-electronica lullabies that would change his life – three decades later.
Using a computer and making music that was out of time and out of place, the sci-fi enthusiast was on the cusp of something. He just didn’t know what. Of the 200 self-made cassette tapes of Keyboard Fantasies, only 50 or so were sold. An introvert with no inclination for self-promotion, Glenn-Copeland put the rest away in a closet and continued his life.
At that point, he was Beverly, a songwriter and a performer on the CBC children’s television series Mr. Dressup. Today, he’s known as Glenn, a transgender man who uses the name Beverly Glenn-Copeland professionally.
On Sept. 25, his career-spanning album Transmissions will be released, just days after a profile of his remarkable life in the current issue of The New Yorker, which describes him as a “musical monk.”
This moment is the culmination of a renewed interest in his work that began in 2016, when a Japanese record collector came across one of the Keyboard Fantasies cassettes and tracked down Glenn-Copeland, who sent him an additional 30 copies. They sold out in three days. Word spread among the audiophile community about this out-of-nowhere unknown and in early 2017 Keyboard Fantasies was remastered and released by Invisible City Editions, a small Toronto label.
Transmissions includes tracks from his jazzy soul-folk albums recorded at the turn of the 1970s, along with material from Keyboard Fantasies and 2004′s Primal Prayer, also recently back in print.
Reacting to the unexpected interest in his music, Glenn-Copeland formed a band, Indigo Rising, and began touring Europe and North America. The group was well received at New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the Dutch avant-garde festival Le Guess Who?
Among Glenn-Copeland’s champions are Canadian electronica maestro Caribou (Dan Snaith), who this spring spoke at length about Keyboard Fantasies and the song Ever New on NPR’s All Things Considered. “How could music that beautiful have been forgotten for so long?” he asked.
It’s a question that comes up whenever the story of a time-forgotten musician comes to light. Another recent example is Jackie Shane, a pioneering transgender performer and Toronto-based R&B singer in the 1960s who was presumed dead until she resurfaced a decade ago. (She would die in 2019.) Similarly, the unremembered American singer-songwriter Rodriguez from the early 1970s had his career resuscitated by the 2012 documentary Searching for Sugar Man. Glenn-Copeland himself is the subject of the 2019 bio-doc Keyboard Fantasies: The Beverly Glenn-Copeland Story, by London-based filmmaker Posy Dixon.
Part of the interest with these unfortunately ignored artists has to do with compassion. An injustice is perceived by music lovers, even if the artists themselves don’t feel that way. As is the case with Glenn-Copeland.
“I’m extremely aware that life is full of change,” he says from New Brunswick, where he lives with his wife. “There is universal timing for all of us, and I consider this the right time for me, in terms of who I have become and what I have developed into.”
Glenn-Copeland was born into a music-playing, Quaker-practising family in Philadelphia in 1944. His mother would play classical music for him while he was still in utero. A sheltered child, he would sing along with her at the piano. His father, a high-school principal, played Bach, Beethoven, Brahms and Chopin for hours every night. Everything from Rodgers and Hammerstein to Sinatra, to music from China and West Africa emanated from the family turntable.
“It all affected me,” Glenn-Copeland says. “You name it, I was listening to it.”
In 1961, Copeland enrolled in the music program at Montreal’s McGill University. He’s not exactly sure why he applied to McGill, but when the school offered a scholarship, that was the clincher.
The 17-year-old took to Canada instantly. A Buddhist, he believes he may have been a slave who escaped to Canada in a past life. “As soon as I crossed the border, as far as I was concerned, I was home."
In Toronto at the turn of the 1970s, Glenn-Copeland recorded a pair of self-titled albums, one for a CBC in-house label that was only released to CBC radio stations. The material was jazzy, moody folk music, comparable to the sounds that Odetta, Terry Collier and Joni Mitchell were laying down at the time.
“I didn’t know what Joni was doing,” says Glenn-Copeland, who adds that he had stopped listening to music in 1966. “Sometimes there are those among us who lived strange, interesting lives and they come out with things that are uniquely ourselves.”
Those first albums went nowhere. Withdrawing from the music scene in the mid 1970s, he spent 20 years on the Mr. Dressup show. In 2002, Glenn-Copleand transitioned. Over the years, he’s delivered pizzas, spent time as an Adlerian therapist and worked in a theatre school.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Glenn-Copeland’s live dates for 2020 were cancelled. He and his wife had sold their house in Sackville, N.B., and were without a home and touring income. Fortunately, a benefactor came forward and offered the couple a house north of Moncton for as long as they need it.
One wonders what would have happened had such kismet occurred 50 years ago – if a major label had signed Glenn-Copeland in his 20s. Or if Keyboard Fantasies hadn’t taken 30 years to strike a chord with audiences. No one would blame Glenn-Copeland, now in his mid-seventies, if he were to indulge in what-if speculation.
He doesn’t though. “Listen, it didn’t happen for me back then because it wasn’t meant to,” the Ever New singer says.
“My god, my emotional growth was only beginning,” he continues, with a laugh. “If I had to do it all over again, I would change nothing.”
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