Freeheld and Grandma: interesting films

“Freeheld” and “Grandma”

Two recent films featuring women as protagonists arrived in Winnipeg during a two-week time frame. I enjoyed both films, experiencing the issues raised by the women as they transpired during the film and then reflecting on these timely issues during subsequent days.

The titles intrigue; grandma is a term with many connotations but those might be questioned as the film transpires. Freehold is a term used in property management. Why has it been adapted to become the title of a film?

Julianne Moore and Ellen Page portray Laurel Hester, a policewoman, and her partner, Stacie Andree, an auto mechanic. The film documents the true story of Hester, a respected police officer in Ocean County, New Jersey, her relationship with Stacie, her struggle with lung cancer and their battle with the Chosen Freeholders of Ocean City who deny Stacie Hester’s pension benefits after her death. Moore and Page do not disappoint; their performances are a testament to their artistic excellence.

Ocean County elects 5 individuals, the Chosen Freeholders, to govern the town. In denying Hester’s request that her benefits be given to Stacie, they use a clause in the governance procedures that county employees can be treated differently. That crutch becomes the public response to hide rigid belief systems.

Hester’s police partner becomes her strongest ally in the fight to obtain equal benefits for civil partners. When he discovers that Hester has lived in the closet throughout their partnership, initially he feels betrayed but over time accepts her relationship with Stacie. Gradually he allows himself to continue to respect his former partner.

Grandma Ella (Lily Tomlin) is a feisty, lesbian writer who has recently lost her long time partner, Violet. In an attempt to pay off the debts incurred for medical care during Violet’s illness, Ella has cut up her credit cards and drawn on her savings. She has also dismissed her current lover, Olivia. No sooner has Olivia left the apartment than Sage, (Julie Garner), Ella’s granddaughter, arrives at the door asking for money to pay for an abortion. Both Ella and Sage agree that they cannot contact Judy, (Marcia Gay Harden) Sage’s mother and Ella’s daughter to ask for money. How has this strange intrafamilial relationship effectively separating three generations of women occurred. Through innuendo, the audience slowly constructs an understanding of the lives of the three women. Ella and Sage visit people who have been part of Ella’s past, begging for sums of money. During each visit, Ella peels away layers of her identity, revealing glimpses of her multiple selves. As a last resort, they descent on Judy whose reaction to the news of the unwanted pregnancy seems to fit Ella’s and Sage;s perceptions of her. Money in hand, the two arrive, almost without incident, at the clinic.

Both films are timely; both films highlight positive long-term relationships between women. Freeheld describes events that occurred almost 20 years ago in Ocean City. The film highlights entrenched beliefs about homosexuality. Hester has led a secret life, travelling away from her community for friendship. The Chosen Freeholders and one of her colleagues are openly biased. Her former colleagues are reluctant to support her request. Stacie is targeted at her place of work. Grandma, on the other hand, perhaps due to its California location, highlights difference. Ella’s lifestyle is not questioned by her friends, most of whom live just on the fringes of mainstream life. Her friends volunteer at abortion clinics, operate tattoo parlours and own funky coffee shops.


Quartteto Gelato at the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra Air Canada Pops

Quartetto Gelato


A slick, fast-paced chatter interspersed with brilliant are the salient features of Quartteto Gelato shows. Peter de Sotto’s opening patter set the stage for the rest of the evening and his slick technical mastery of the violin guarantees interesting performances. Alexander Sevasian plays the accordion and does he play accordion. Finger dexterity, strong rhythmic leadership and sensitive phrasing, whether he is the featured performer or collabororating behind his colleagues work, characterize his presence on stage. Colin Maier, uses his acrobatic training to add bits of humour to serious performances and his work entitled ‘The Pipes’ presents the bagpipe as a mostly serious instrument. His mastery of circular breathing, a skill developed by many oboists, was featured in the pipe music as well as in the Oboe Concerto. Elizabeth McLellan served to support the men of the group and her cello playing was really only featured in ‘Al di La’. One could only wish for more from this fine cellist arranger.

Toronto-based Quartteto Gelato  has been popular throughout its twenty year history, produced many CD’s and won several awards.

Reflections on the Manitoba Chamber Music concert, October 14, 2015 at Westminster United Church, Winnipeg.



I attended a Manitoba Chamber Orchestra concert the other evening to enjoy two pieces that were unfamiliar to me as well as a Mozart Symphony. The soloist, Mark Andre Hamelin and music director, Ann Manson created a musically interesting evening, linking Mozart to Kancheli and then Kancheli to Sylvestrov. ‘The Messenger’ featuring piano, synthesizer and strings was written in memory of Sylvestrov’s wife and contains melodic fragments, specifically motifs from Mozart as well as from folk music. It features many duet-like passages between the concert master and the soloist as well as highlighting other players interacting  with the soloist. Sylvestrov interrupts motifs, moving on to new  and varied melodic and rhythmic figures before letting them dissipate into the atmosphere. I was reminded of walking in areas of London and Paris past open windows, hearing strains of multiple melodies mixing, fading or ascending as I wandered.

The orchestra then interpreted Symphony No. 25 in G minor (K183) by Mozart. The rapid tempi were controlled by Manson as she led the players through the passion associated with Mozart’s use of this minor key. The ensemble was tight throughout the performance with a warm, subtle tone quality that welcomed bursts of drama and pathos.

The second half of the concert featured “Valse Boston” by the Georgian composer, Giya Kancheli. I had not known (or I had forgotten) that the Boston Waltz was a slow Americanized version of the Viennese Waltz. Kancheli’s piece opens abruptly with a crashing note played by the piano followed by a haze of string sounds that gradually enters our consciousness. The music is punctuated throughout by gripping percussive chords that dissipate into the air.

Although neither piece is particularly technically demanding for the pianist, both require extreme sensitivity of interpretation and deep command of very quiet playing. Hamelin and Manson highlighted colour, line, texture and ensemble playing in ways that assured a lingering memory of both ‘The Messenger’ and ‘Valse Boston.’

Tea and Coffee Band

Here  is a quick link to an innovative group with a cool sound. Based in Toronto, Canada, the group creates, arranges and performs their songs.

The music is fresh and hooky, the words are simple but profound, and the band as a whole puts on a fantastic live show.  Tea and Coffee makes music for everyone.   The band is done with battles now, and put on their own gigs at several different venues in Ontario including Toronto, London, Guelph, and Cambridge.  With many new songs ready for action, only time will reveal the recording process for their next release.

Listen to tea and coffee here or check them out here

Watch a mashup Here.

Curious Incidents

What does it mean to be moved by “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time“? The novel, adapted for the stage, narrates the tale of an autistic teen-ager who chooses to confront some of his fears. There are many other stories that chronicle personal courage. Why is this story so compelling? Is it because it describes the efforts of  a young man to go beyond the limits members of  his family and society have erected?

Christopher’s flair for mathematics and  his literal interpretation of events allow him to experience life differently. His revulsion at any physical touch pushes him away from those who love and care for him, althouugh he does permit fleeting touches of fingertips with his father.

His quest to find his mother takes him on a terrifying journey, buffeted by noise and losing his pet in the subway.

The set , with its stark lines at right angles to each other, represents the autism spectrum,  railway lines, the perserveration of angular lines in Christopher’s walk, his logical reading of evennts in his world and even the grid within which we live.

Reflections on Sutra

Several weeks ago a colleague introduced me to the group Sutra. She had attended a performance of the group in Plymouth and suggested I learn about it. Several days later, I googled the group only to find they were performing at the Lowry, in the Salford Quays when we sould be staying at our time share in nearby  Ambleside.  A dance group of young Buddhist monks, ranging in age from 10-26 would perform ancient and ritualist martial arts movements accompanied by musicians.

The name Sutra literally means a rope or a thread that binds things together. It also refers to the sermons of Buddha. A third interpretation could refer to a set of rules that add coherence.

Contrast, simplicity, ritual and discipline dominated.  The set, a series of wooden boxes, became places of constraint and confinement as well as platforms for liberated acrobatics. Paradoxes fascinated and perplexed us even as we we enjoyed and were amazed by the sheer physicality of the staging.