“The Love Songs of Beverly Glenn-Copeland” is one in a series of short essays about the events and trends we missed in our 2021 art and culture coverage. Read more – and stories from last year – here.
The songs on Keyboard fantasies (1986), Beverly Glenn-Copeland’s masterful third studio album, layers melodious synthesizers with her delicate, prayerful tenor voice. The lyrics to the opening track, ‘Ever New’, begin: ‘Welcome the spring, the summer rain.’ What follows is an opus about the regeneration of an artist whose music, until very recently, had been woefully neglected.
This year, however, Glenn-Copeland was the subject of two exhibitions by artist Wu Tsang: the first in the rotunda of the Guggenheim Museum in New York City; the second, on a reduced scale, at the Isabella Bortolozzi Gallery in Berlin. Both include two videos of Glenn-Copeland: one of him singing and playing the piano and drums; the other an interview with him and his wife, Elizabeth. At the Guggenheim, the first was projected onto a massive sheer curtain hanging from the museum’s oculus, its fabric rippling like a river rushing down the rotunda, illuminated by the blue glow of the film’s background and Glenn-Copeland’s azure suit jacket. . In the installation’s second video, titled ∞ (2021), Glenn-Copeland talks about an energy that “runs through us all” from which he receives his songs. He can be seen as he sings – eyes closed, hands raised – his improvised tune played throughout the museum in an astral echo reminiscent of both jazz and glossolalia.
While the installation and Glenn-Copeland’s voice brought out the cathedral qualities of the Guggenheim Museum, this effect was not reflected when the work was projected into Bortolozzi’s smaller space. Here, the singer’s voice took on a new timbre: less that of a thriving preacher in the assembly, more that of a single practitioner praying alone. By projecting ∞ on the same scale in an adjoining room, rather than playing the supporting role of the main event, visitors were able to better see how the two films interact. At Bortolozzi, I was more taken by the conversation between Glenn-Copeland and his wife, which focused on their relationship, with brief performative actions between the two taking place every now and then. Whoever stayed with me had the pair with their eyes closed, raising their hands from their sides and approaching each other and finding themselves not knowing where they were. Glenn-Copeland’s gesture mirrored the one he had made while singing, which, in this new context, suggested that, when he reached out to that empty space beyond the frame, he was reaching out to Elizabeth.
Despite having spent more time in Berlin with ∞ than with me Anthem, I never completely lost Glenn-Copeland: his voice whispered in the background as I listened as he and his wife spoke about their history and their love in general. Elizabeth explained how, before mating, she asked Glenn-Copeland to hold her from behind, as he did in a recent dream she had of him: “And he did, and that’s all.” Glenn-Copeland responds: “When I held her in that position, what happened was I felt like all of a sudden everything that was missing in my being, in the body, in my body itself, had now entered this body. ”The Berlin iteration of Tsang’s performance is titled“ Lovesong ”to reflect the intimacy of the space.
Glenn-Copeland started recording music in the late 1960s, but it wasn’t until 2015 that people started listening. While living in rural Canada with Elizabeth, Glenn-Copeland was approached by a record collector in Japan to obtain copies of Keyboard fantasies. Through word of mouth, the demand for his records increased, and within a year the record companies understood and Keyboard fantasies has been reissued. Now, after so many years in which hardly anyone has heard his music, Glenn-Copeland is also the subject of a 2019 documentary directed by Posy Dixon, titled after the album, and its catalog is in being remastered and re-released by Transgressive Records.
In an online interview with the Guggenheim in August, Tsang recalls hearing Glenn-Copeland’s music for the first time and how it conjured up a world she wanted to live in. The ∞ musician’s own words best describe, I think, how we can reach this world: “I really believe that there is an energy, and it could come from Mother herself, or whatever.” But it goes through us all, doesn’t it? So it’s not like it’s my vision. It’s not about that. It is the a vision, it is true, that Mother has for all of us. And are we ready to make ourselves available for this?
Main picture: Wu Tsang, ??, 2021. Courtesy of the artist and Isabella Bortolozzi Gallery, Berlin; Photography: Graysc