Keyboard Fantasies is the musical embodiment of its creator: a gentle, creative soul searching for their place in time and space.
Like many Canadians my age, I first met Beverly Glenn-Copeland courtesy of Mr. Dressup. Sesame Street may have been the longer program and The Electric Company much cooler and with better street cred (for seven-year-old kids), but Mr. Dressup was the real deal for me. Hanging out with like-minded friends, dressing up and acting out stories and songs sprung from my imagination — in the 70s and 80s, that was my jam.
I’d be lying if I said that I thought of the show and Copeland’s role in it often between then and now, but Mr. Dressup, Casey and Finnegan, Alligator Al, Aunt Bird, and Beverly were foundational influences on my life. And though Glenn-Copeland’s forgotten-then-rediscovered album Keyboard Fantasies has no formal connection to his previous gig as a children’s show entertainer, I find a similar comfort, solace, and familiarity in its dulcet style and atmosphere. Initially recorded in 1986 (and reissued this month in celebration of its thirty-fifth anniversary), Keyboard Fantasies is the musical embodiment of its creator: a gentle soul, fiercely creative and forward-thinking, searching for their place in time and space. Patient, measured, pure.
Indoctrinated in the faith from an early age by his musical parents, there isn’t a note Glenn-Copeland plays that doesn’t feel divinely inspired. “Ever New,” the album’s lauded lead song, is both lullaby and hymn. “Welcome the child whose hand I hold,” he sings in the song’s second of two verses, “Welcome to you, both young and old.” It’s a timeless invitation that cycles through glistening keyboard notes in accompanying his plain-spoken, nature-based poetry. He couldn’t have predicted just how prescient, how perfectly those lyrics would resonate with a new generation of fans decades later. Nor could he have guessed that keyboard Fantasies would pluck him from obscurity courtesy of a Japanese record collector who recognized what the rest of the music-obsessed world would come to know: that Glenn-Copeland is the real deal.
Not even Glenn-Copeland knew that back in 1986. At the height of his time on Mr. Dressup, Glenn-Copeland identified as female while struggling to reconcile the conflict between his biology and his true identity. The century would turn before he realized he was transgender and transitioned to male, but listening back to Keyboard Fantasies now, you can sense transcendence on the horizon. It’s there in the rudimentary rhythm of “Let Us Dance,” a new age reel born out of the presets on Glenn-Copeland’s Yamaha DX-7 and Roland TR-707 synthesizers. “Let Us Dance” beacons us to move “down the road” towards a place, time, and/or mindset where the imaginary becomes real, where the rigidity of form so inherent in electronic sounds breaks the binary code of zeroes and ones and turns into something organic, natural and real. Similarly, “Old Melody” takes on new resonance some thirty years after being recorded in a Muskoka cabin, less for being a fully-realized composition in and of itself, but for the way it sets up “Sunset Village,” Keyboard Fantasies’s coda. An enduring prayer of simplicity, “Sunset Village” returns to the lyrical structure of “Ever New,” setting minimalist poetry to an even-sparer arrangement that gives all of us permission to let the fantasy fully take flight:
Let it go Let it go down It’s okay Let it come Let it take all thoughts away
Keyboard Fantasies is an undeniably spiritual record. The innocence, wonder and awe in its six synthesized movements don’t feel like relics from a bygone time. They also do not feel like a time capsule waiting to be discovered by an audience that “gets it.” You can’t put a timeline on childhood — the idea of it, at least. In interviews, Glenn-Copeland often speaks of the Universal Broadcast System, a transmission from the very fabric of nature that manifests itself through his music in our world. It’s no wonder then that listening to Keyboard Fantasies feels like you’re entering through a portal, to a place, time, and space where both our younger and older selves — every thought and dream each of us has ever had — exist together in harmony. Come, let us dance.