Chorale: The Holly Bough

The seventh of eight cross-curricular lesson plans on Ballads for Christmas for Middle School, Secondary School, High School, KS3 children, with songs and animations, poetry analysis and writing, music analysis, art projects, documentary/film-making and more.


Chorale: The Holly Bough
Animation by Paula Downes, music by Andrew Downes, poetry by Charles Mackay.


The Poem
Ye who have scorn'd each other,
Or injured friend or brother,
In this fast-fading year;
Ye who, by word or deed,
Have made a kind heart bleed,
Come gather here.

Let sinn'd-against and sinning
Forget their strife's beginning,
And join in friendship now;
Be links no longer broken;
Be sweet forgiveness spoken
Under the holly bough.

Ye who have loved each other,
Sister and friend and brother,
In this fast fading year;
Mother and sire and child,
Young man and maiden mild,
Come gather here;

And let your hearts grow fonder,
As memory shall ponder
Each past unbroken vow.
Old love and younger wooing
Are sweet in the renewing
Under the holly bough.


Poetry Background
The Holly Bough was written by Charles Mackay (27 March 1814 – 24 December 1889), a Scottish poet, journalist, author, anthologist, novelist, and songwriter.

The Tradition of Holly at Christmas time

Festive holly imagery on Christmas cards may be a Victorian invention, but the tree's association with Christmas goes back to pagan times, when it was customary to bring holly boughs in to deck out the house. Holly was seen as a powerful fertility symbol, and was believed to be an effective charm to ward off witches and ill-fortune: for this reason it was often planted close to homes and outbuildings. Conveniently, its thorny foliage and blood-red berries lent themselves to Christian tradition, and the early customs surrounding the species were fully adopted by Christianity. With its intense red berries, the holly was also seen as a very masculine plant – after all, "the holly wears the crown" – though the fact that hollies with berries are always female seems to have been conveniently forgotten by some in society.

                                                                                      Andy Byfield (The Guardian)


Create your own Holly Christmas Decorations
Draw inspiration from the following videos:



Music Analysis
Chorale: The Holly Bough music is based on a Lutheran Hymn or 'Chorale'. Chorales are simple enough for the congregation to sing. They can be sung unaccompanied in unison, or they can be harmonised, accompanied by other voice parts and/or organ. Many composers have harmonised chorale melodies, the most famous of whom if J.S.Bach, a musical genius. Chorale melodies have been treated in all sorts of ways, not just harmonised with one chord per note, as in The Holly Bough. There are numerous Chorale Preludes for organ, and choruses of cantatas or oratorios that use a chorale melodies as the basis of a contrapuntal composition around which other melodies interweave. Watch the following series of videos to learn about J.S Bach and the Lutheran church.  


Andrew Downes creates his own unique modern-sounding harmonisation of his Chorale: The Holly Bough by combining  jazzy 6th and 7th chords (see Chords for more information) with bare intervals and parallel movement similar to that of the Medieval period. Listen to some medieval music here:


Listen to The Holly Bough again and discuss the similarities and differences to Bachian Chorales.



Move on to New Year Bells


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