All That We Hold

music: Michael Leibson

lyrics:  Susan Gillis

All That We Hold, a work for jazz vocalist, piano, acoustic bass and drums, deals in paradox: it speaks in jazz dialects, but was 'classically' composed, with no improvisation; it uses disparate techniques — mixed meter from the Balkans, Cuban-influenced polymeter, minimalist textures, European counterpoint, and everything from Impressionist harmony to atonality — but has been performed and recorded by jazz musicians. Its lyrics, by Canadian poet Susan Gillis, address the paradox of the human heart, that takes root in a world of only apparent realities.

Yvette Tollar: voice;    Michael Leibson: piano/midi

George Koller: bass;     Michel Medrano Brindis: drums

Recorded at Victory Drive Music, by Jono Grant

And for those who like video with their music:

Video by Michael Leibson, from photographs by Victoria Laube

the composition

All That We Hold began as a simple melody over a standard jazz progression, with no pretension to being anything other than a moment’s improvisation. But as I was in the midst of a difficult transition in my personal life, clamouring emotions and perspectives rose up to take possession of my musical ideas, and — before I knew it — I had a composition on my hands.

I strive for emotional honesty in my work, and composition is often far more a process of searching for the musical gesture that does justice to the emerging emotional content than of anything consciously pre-planned. However, as I also love the craft of musical composition, I subject the discovered musical gestures to rigorous refinement; an emotionally honest musical gesture that takes seconds to find may take weeks to integrate and perfect.

Though All That We Hold has a duration of only five minutes, it took me a year to write. I began it in September of 2016, and completed it in September, 2017.

For insights into some of the compositional techniques used in the piece, visit the All That We Hold Composition Page.

the lyrics

In the "classical" tradition, compositions that include text are usually created from existing writings — quite often to a poem that has particular resonance for the composer. But as my process of composition was one of a dynamic, emotional unfoldment, it necessarily contained its own emotional references and embryonic narrative.

This meant that a prospective lyricist would not only have to create to pre-existing music, but also contend with a composer who believed that he already knew the emotional and narrative form the lyrics should take.

I am very grateful to Susan Gillis for taking up this challenge. She opened herself completely to the music, and through her brilliant art gave it incarnation as poetic narrative.

There’s a gate in the forest
of our childhood dreams
Where we made a vow,
led each other in.

We wandered green pathways
and paused by shimmering streams
while the shadows lengthened,
forming our names.

But dreams, when they end,
lodge in the heart,
the heart is a city of dreams.

Waking, I found my city in ruins,
my loved ones all off fighting wars —

And all my houses
have turned to thread and air.

Where are we who were 'we' now?

I walked in a forest,
lay down by a stream,
woke to the earth
turning to sand.

I didn’t know
how it could be so,

shadow and dream
all that we hold
in this hour that we walk in the world.

Susan Gillis is a poet, teacher and editor based in Montreal and rural eastern Ontario. Her work includes Yellow Crane, The Rapids, and the A.M.Klein Award-winning Volta. She is a member of the collaborative writing group Yoko’s Dogs.

the performers

Yvette Tollar
Highly esteemed as a vocalist in the Toronto jazz scene, Yvette Tollar is also a gifted composer, arranger, and producer. Having studied with Kenny Werner, Joe Lovano, Sheila Jordan and George Sawa, Yvette has performed and/or recorded with Sheila Jordan, Mary Margaret O’Hara, Kevin Breit, Elizabeth Shepherd, Rich Brown, Michael Occhipinti, Dominic Mancuso, Maryem and Ernie Tollar, John McMurchy, Levon Ichkhanian, and Dave Restivo. Ms.Tollar regularly conducts masterclasses, and teaches voice at Toronto’s prestigious Humber College music department. Her newest solo CD is The Music of Joni Mitchell.

Michael Leibson
Composer, music theory teacher, and music analyst, Michael Leibson is also the author of this website. Michael composed and scored all the music for All That We Hold (with the exception of the drum parts, which were co-composed with Michel Medrano Brindis), and — in a manner of speaking (see the All That We Hold Production page) — ‘performed’ the piano part. Learn more about Michael Leibson here, and throughout the pages of

George Koller
Winner of the National Jazz Award for Bassist Of The Year, multi-instrumentalist, composer, and producer George Koller has had a rich and wide-ranging career, as evidenced by those with whom he has performed, toured, or recorded: from Peter Gabriel and Chaka Khan, through jazz artists Holly Cole, The Shuffle Demons, Joe Sealy, Laila Biali and Eliana Cuevas, to folk icons Buce Cockburn and Loreena McKennitt. Learn more about George Koller here.

Michel Medrano Brindis
Born and raised in Havana, Cuba, Michel Medrano Brindis was exposed to both traditional and modern Afro-Cuban musical traditions from an early age. He performed regularly in Havana’s top jazz clubs, and, by 2008, appeared in both the International Jazz Festival and Jazz Plaza 2008. Since moving to Canada in 2009, Michel has been in very high demand as a drummer and percussionist, touring the world on a regular basis. Michel Medrano Brindis and Michael Leibson co-composed the drum parts for All That We Hold.


Recorded, mixed and mastered in July and August, 2017, the production of All That We Hold really began a year earlier, as decisions about performing artists, recording studios, logistics, and — not least — funding, had to be considered.

Very importantly, demands made by the score’s complex piano part posed ever-increasing challenges, that eventually saw us choose a relatively unique — but equally complex — solution. (For more on that solution, visit the All That We Hold Production page).

Throughout all of this, I was aided and encouraged by the brilliant, steady guidance of my long-time friend and colleague, Jono Grant, of Victory Drive Music, in Toronto, Canada. An accomplished and productive composer in his own right, Jono’s impeccable ears and decades-long production experience ensured that the transformation of All That We Hold — from score and midi, through recorded performance, to post-production refinement — would be a success.

For in-depth, behind-the-scenes details on the production of All That We Hold, visit the All That We Hold Production Page.

the video

The idea of creating a video for All That We Hold was, for me, an afterthought. I barely know how to hold a camera, and so the footage that I took of our recording sessions was of too low quality to be of use. With no budget for professional videographers, I had to fall back on my own resources if I wished to honour the prevailing practice of accompanying online music with video.

Rather than attempt any form of 'live' video, I decided that my lack of experience would do better with more abstract material — colour, texture and form that might convey the feelings of the piece, and only peripherally deal with its narrative. With this in mind, I approached photographer Victoria Laube, whose work is rich in abstract design and potent with emotion and meaning. I am grateful to her for allowing me to use a number of her photographs, and for permitting their further abstraction via my animation.

Photographs used in the making of this video

Click on the photographs to view them full-size.

Michael Leibson
February, 2019

Michael Leibson is a composer, music consultant, and music educator, who specializes in jazz and classical harmony. To learn more about him, click here; for information about studying with him, click here.