In her essays on music, Ann Copeland delivers a marvelous tapestry of the ancient and modern, cosmic and mundane, ecstatic and everyday. She writes herself so deeply into the physical matter and detail of the world that her writing hardly feels like self examination at all. Plying strand upon bright strand without ever dropping a thread, she weaves together Gregorian chant, the monastic life, marriage, the passing of time, joy, sensuality, and history. No wonder one of her favorite images is cloth: practical but delightfully tactile, cloth's drape and color, its feel against the body, the craft of dressmaking, and cloth's intimate connection with vocation—be that the vocation of a religious or a young housewife—offer Copeland a way of uniting her meditations on music and the soul, starting with a scene in which a group of young postulants is instructed to sew the habits in which they'll be clothed as nuns. The transcendent power of music is a vein we're glad to hear that Copeland is continuing to mine in a collection-in-progress of interconnected essays.
For the past two years I have been working on a collection of essays: "Musicking: A Memoir of Musical Time." Propelled by a strange inner urgency, this writing has grown out of my ongoing delight in hours of making music, alone or with others, for over sixty years, and my recognition that musicking has constituted a deep, living thread of connection, solace, and meaning across my life. Drawing on Christopher Small's generous definition of musicking, these interconnected essays explore 1) how the activity of making music alters human relations while modeling, metaphorically, their ideal state; 2) how a personal history of amateur musicking may illumine the inner form of a life narrative. This is not a tell-all memoir. In non-chronological form, I try to bring alive personal episodes of performing, listening, rehearsing and practicing, composing, and dancing in various situations (domestic, conventual, parental) and settings: Ireland, China, Germany, Canada, Oregon. Where apt, I make connections between musicking and the challenges of composing fiction. Writing these essays has been a labor of love, leavened, I hope, by a writer's critical sense honed over thirty years of writing. I now see that musicking has constituted a luminous arc spanning major discontinuities in my life—geographical, familial, spiritual. The subject offers me a way to honor the grittiness and beauty of life itself and also to pay credible homage to a reality larger than self and beyond the quotidian. The power and joy of musicking ultimately transcend words about it.
In fall, 1996, after living in New Brunswick, Canada, for 25 years, Ann Copeland returned to the U.S. to become the first holder of the newly endowed Hallie Ford Chair of English at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. During her Canadian sojourn, five collections of her short fiction were published: At Peace (Oberon Press, 1978); The Back Room (Oberon Press, 1979); Earthen Vessels (Oberon Press, 1978); The Golden Thread, (Viking/Penguin, U.S., Harper/Collins, Canada, 1989); Strange Bodies on a Stranger Shore, (Goose Lane Editions, Canada, 1994). Her most recent collection, Season of Apples (Goose Lane Editions, 1996) came out after her move to Oregon. That same year saw publication of The ABC's of Writing Fiction by Story Press.
For several years, in addition to teaching English, literature, and writing at a number of Canadian and American universities, Ann Copeland wrote a column for writers in The Saint John Telegraph Journal called “Writer's Cramp.” She has published numerous stories and essays in both Canada and the United States .
Her prizes and awards include two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, an Ingram Merrill Award, several Canada Council awards, and a Province of New Brunswick award. The Golden Thread was a finalist for Canada 's highest award, the Governor General's Award. Copeland's stories have appeared in Best Canadian Stories, Best American Short Stories, The Journey Prize Anthology, Best Maritime Short Stories, Choice Atlantic—Writers of Newfoundland and the Maritimes, The Penguin Anthology of Stories by Canadian Women, Voices and Echoes—Canadian Women's Spirituality.
Her story “Second Spring,” from Earthen Vessels, was made into a 30-minute film, Letter from Francis, produced by E. Jane Thompson for Atlantis Films and won a Gemini Award (Canadian equivalent of American Emmy) for Best Short Dramatic program. In 1991 Copeland represented Canada at the listener Women's Book Festival in New Zealand. She holds a PhD from Cornell in Modern Literature, and was awarded an honorary degree by University of New Brunswick, St. John, Canada.
Retired from teaching, Copeland has completed two novels, House of Wisdom and Glory, and is currently at work on a memoir in essay form, "Musicking."