Beverly Glenn-Copeland

Wednesday, October 25, 2023 - 8:00pm

All Ages

In the tumult of this world, there are constants. People need each other. Every motion brushes against others, moving. None of us are siloed and none of us are still. The music of Beverly Glenn-Copeland drinks deeply from these truths. For decades, the Philadelphia-born, Canada-based singer, songwriter, and composer has drawn myriad musical practices toward a single, luminous conviction: that music can shake us loose from what closes us off from each other. His multifaceted body of work surrenders to the beauty, pain, and great capacity for healing that courses through life; in its unguarded sincerity, it invites you to share in its courage. Glenn-Copeland’s new album, The Ones Ahead — his first collection of new music in nearly two decades — deepens these explorations, casting searching light into how all of us must dissolve the harms of this world and carry each other forward into the next.
Glenn-Copeland began his musical career in the 1960s, when he studied classical singing at Montreal’s McGill University and performed at Expo 67. A pair of self-titled, multi-genre albums released in the early ’70s showcased his powerful voice and songwriting talent. In 1986, while living in rural Ontario, Glenn-Copeland taught himself to use digital synthesis and recorded the album that would ultimately alter the entire course of his career. At the time, he self-released Keyboard Fantasies via a 200-copy cassette run, selling just a handful while the rest waited in storage. In 2015, a Japanese record collector emailed Glenn-Copeland about selling the remainder; a new generation had unearthed his art. The music spread globally, and a few years later, in his 70s, Glenn-Copeland embarked on his first European tour to share his songs with live audiences, a journey captured in Posy Dixon’s 2019 documentary Keyboard Fantasies.
Since Keyboard Fantasies‘ rediscovery, a new generation of listeners and artists have embraced Glenn-Copeland’s music. In 2021, he released the remix album Keyboard Fantasies Reimagined, which featured reimagined versions of the album’s songs from contemporary visionaries such as Arca, Blood Orange, and Kelsey Lu. As his work has spread its inspiration, Glenn-Copeland has continued to develop his own prismatic musical practice. The songs on The Ones Ahead draw from a wealth of traditions, from American jazz to Irish fiddle songs to West African percussion. Some, like “No Other” and “Stand Anthem,” were originally born as parts of song cycles and stage plays. Glenn-Copeland writes with an ear to what he calls the Universal Broadcasting System, receiving transmissions from the vibrations of the world around him and faithfully transcribing them. “The UBS sends what it wants, and like a good servant, I listen and write what I am given,” he says. Many of these songs came to him in the mid-2010s, around the time his music began to reach its intergenerational and intercontinental audience.
Glenn-Copeland recorded The Ones Ahead in collaboration with producer John Herbermann and Indigo Rising, the band who accompanied him on his inaugural European tour, whose playing lends a cinematic richness to these intricately textured electroacoustic arrangements. After watching a live performance from Glenn-Copeland and Indigo Rising, Herbermann chose to record the album live from the floor, capturing the dynamic interplay among the group. The bond the musicians share and their deep trust in one another shine through these songs. Kurt Inder’s elegiac slide guitar glows against Nick Dourado’s delicate piano on “Love Takes All,” while on “Harbour (Song for Elizabeth),” Glenn-Copeland trades verses with singer Jeremy Costello, who echoes the love ballad’s lyrics with warm affection over drummer Bianca Palmer’s softly brushed cymbals and accented Carlie Howell’s sensitive and melodic bass solo.
The spirited, polyrhythmic “Africa Calling” opens The Ones Ahead, a song without lyrics that honors Glenn-Copeland’s West African heritage. “In the ’80s, I had the honor of performing with an incredible artist named Dido, a master of the drums indigenous to West Africa,” Glenn-Copeland notes. “The beauty of this drumming tradition is explored in ‘Africa Calling’. Over the years, in many conversations, I have come to understand that I share an undefinable, unnamed feeling — a calling — with many other members of the African diaspora, a bone-deep need to explore and express our heritage. Alongside the grief, there is a longing to know our roots, hidden from us as family lines were torn apart in the terrible days of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. In a world still caught in the ties of colonialism, I know I am not alone in needing to heed the call of this generations-old longing.”
The Ones Ahead weaves together poignant themes: the need for love and mutual care in the face of destruction and uncertainty, the power people have when they reach out for each other, the ways that the wisdom of past generations can guide us along the path forward. On “Stand Anthem,” written as part of a collaboration with his wife and longtime creative partner Elizabeth for an eco-play called Bearing Witness, Glenn-Copeland calls upon the power of the human collective to right the course of the world toward sustainable survival. At a time when choosing the right thing can feel impossibly complex, “Stand Anthem” clarifies a simple emotional call: “We have only one action / We have only one heart / Stand!” Glenn-Copeland urges with his Indigo Rising bandmates. Tune into what’s around you, and the right thing rises to the surface. The album’s title track bridges the music’s deep historical roots and the vast future to which it gestures. “The title of this song refers to two things: the generations to come and those in the unseen world that guide us: our ancestors, our spiritual guides. Whether or not we believe in them, they are there for us every minute of every day. All they need is for us to ask for their help,” Glenn-Copeland says. “As the old world crumbles, a new world is waiting to be born. All of our various strengths are needed. The generations of those yet to come are calling us forward.”
From the stirring, rapturous “People of the Loon” to the gorgeously flowing “Prince Caspian’s Dream,” The Ones Ahead cultivates a vibrant hope for this world and what it must become to survive. A new chapter in an expansive and unique body of work, Glenn-Copeland’s latest album offers flowering wisdom for the world to come, needed now more urgently than ever.