CBC GEM Featuring Canada's Leading Artists: Beverly Glenn-Copeland
Photo by Maria Jose Govea
The remarkable story of seventy-five year old Beverly Glenn-Copeland is one of an artist getting well-deserved acclaim after nearly five decades of relative obscurity. While beloved for his performances on Mr. Dressup, his own music never took off. But in 2016, an influential music collector in Japan named Ryota Masuko found a cassette tape of Glenn-Copeland's 1986, self-released album Keyboard Fantasies, and wrote him an email, asking to purchase the remaining stock of this beautiful electronic music record. This sparked a wave of interest in Glenn-Copeland's music, and he is now touring the world for the first time with his band of much younger musicians — the generation that, he says, he was writing his music for.
Your album is like a symbol for the younger generation. For that, I want to thank you.- Ryota Masuko
On the In the Making season premiere, host Sean O'Neill travels with Glenn-Copeland to Japan, where he finally meets Ryota, who has so influenced the course of his life, and plays an intimate concert for his Japanese fans. Stream the full episode now on CBC Gem and read our Q&A with Sean O'Neill below about his time spent with Beverly Glenn-Copeland, what the artist means to him and his experience directing the episode.
Sean O'Neill is the Host and Executive Producer of the CBC Arts documentary series In the Making. This season, Sean directed his first episode of the show and chose the inimitable 74 year-old musician Beverly Glenn-Copeland as his subject. In the episode, Beverly Glenn-Copeland travels to Japan where he meets the record collector who sparked the renaissance of his career. CBC Arts spoke with Sean about the process and what he learned from the artist:
Q: When did you first hear of BGC and what was your reaction to his music?
A: My boyfriend sent me Keyboard Fantasies in the summer of 2017, when I was in Connecticut studying in a grad program that I eventually left to start making In the Making. I became immediately obsessed with the album—it sounded like it had been made that month, not thirty years before, but at the same time, it had a deep, peaceful, expansive feeling that felt completely out of time. I played it non-stop the whole time I was there, and I was so enamoured with the music, and fascinated by the little bits I could find online about Glenn and his story, that I actually ended up giving a presentation about him and his music at the end of the term.
Q: How did you instinctively know that he would be a good subject for an episode of In the Making?
A: Glenn and Rebecca Belmore were the first two artists we reached out to for season two, and in many ways, those two artists—their depth, their moral clarity, the force of their work—were at the centre of our vision for the season, so it's apt that their episodes are our season premiere and finale, respectively. With Glenn, it was a combination of factors: the undeniable magic of his work, his incredible story, the fact that so few people know of him (although that's changing fast), and, finally, the opportunity to go on this journey to Japan with him to meet the man who discovered his music and ignited his career at the age of 74. Really, the question was not whether he'd be a good subject for us, but if he'd be willing to trust us with his story.
Q: You've never directed any television or film before this episode of In the Making. Of the eight artists selected this season, Why did you choose BGC to be the episode for you to direct?
A: Well, as an executive producer on the show, I think very carefully about matching each subject with the right director, because when that relationship works, there's a kind of magic—you end up bringing out the best in each other, and it's just harder for things to go wrong. I knew I was slated to direct an episode this season, and I guess I just had an intuition that Glenn and I would connect. I also had a sense that he might be less of a challenge for me as a host, because he's so open and the story was so clear, which was also important. And then, I emailed him to invite him to do the show, and sent him one of the episodes from last season to watch, and he called me early one morning in December to talk for the first time after seeing the episode. His opening words to me were: "You are an artist. I need to see no more. I'm in." I got off the phone, wiped tears, and felt like I'd meditated for two hours. It was just right.
Q: Glenn has been described as "magical" many times – can you articulate why you think that is?
A: It's hard to explain in a way that people will believe, actually. But our crew started to call it "Glennergy". It's like, when Glenn walks down a sidewalk, the sun gets brighter, a warm breeze starts to blow, and little daisies bloom at his feet. I'm kidding obviously, but energetically, it's like the world kind of opens up around Glenn. People are disarmed by him, and drawn to him. Things seem calmer, less frantic, there are fewer glitches. It's not because he's some kind of saint; I think it's actually the total opposite. He works everyday (like, he has a 50-year meditation practice) at being fully himself, self-possessed, clear about his needs and boundaries, and open and generous with the people he comes in contact with. I learned as much about leadership shooting with Glenn in the seven or eight days we spent together as I did in the eight or nine years I spent working in the art world. He's just that special.
Q: What was the biggest challenge in telling Glenn's story in 22 minutes?
A: Glenn, as he'll tell you, is a talker. So our editor (the great Avrïl Jacobson) and I had some very careful work to do to preserve the pleasures of his verbose ways, but also make our television half hour.
Q: What is your biggest takeaway for from the whole experience?
A: That in order to treat those around me with deeper honesty, calm, respect and care, I need to practice that with myself, everyday.