The Holly and the Ivy


A rustic mood permeates this setting of the ancient English carol, as the strings ply their open 5ths or weave through the voices in lively patterns.  To provide contrast (since this carol’s verse and refrain have identical melodies), the verses are subtly transformed melodically while retaining all of spirit of the original.  The four-part choral refrain — enlivened with the use of canon — is repeated without change throughout the setting, providing a “rondo” feeling that is fitting for a “call-and-response” carol such as this.


This piece may also be accompanied by string quartet or piano & organ. To get these parts, please contact

A licensed copy is required for each member performing.



he Holly and the Ivy is one of my favorite carols.  Our whole family has green thumbs, so anything with a botanical theme is bound to get me going.  And holly is one of my favorite plants; I enjoy the notion that it has “virtue,” giving cheer during the darkest days of the year with its bright berries, and keeping evil at bay with its sharp-edged leaves.  I also love the thought that this is one of our oldest surviving carols.  Who knows how many centuries its ancient images reach back through?

The holly and the ivy, when they are both full grown,
Of all the trees that are in the wood, the holly bears the crown.

O the rising of the sun, and the running of the deer,
The playing of the merry organ, sweet singing in the choir.

This setting was written as part of a Christmas commission project for Juniata College Concert Choir.  It was an easy choice, since I’ve always loved the carol.  I felt that strings would be the perfect way to accompany this piece, giving a festive, woodsy feeling to the piece.  I probably also owe a bit of debt of inspiration to my favorite Christmas arranger, Charles Gerhardt, for the vocal flourishes on the carol’s coda.

Additional information


SATB piano (choral score)

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