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Like children in bright clothing

from Noisome Spirits [album] by John Harvey



Together with the accounts to which ‘So great a noise that the man of the house, on a sudden, thought the house was going away’ and ‘Incomparable Singing’ respond, ‘Like children in bright clothing’ describes a domestic audition. On this occasion, there was an accompanying apparition: an overwhelming light within which appeared a ‘company of spirits … like children in bright clothing’, singing. The manifestation took place twice in succession. Both the ‘Like children in bright clothing’ and ‘John Williams’ accounts are distinguished by psalm singing, as well as the characteristic of partialness. In the latter, the two women heard only the first and last lines of the stanzas of Psalm 105, presumably because that was all either the spirit sang or they were permitted to hear. David Thomas, for his part, could recall only two lines from their singing, which he believed resembled Psalm 90 and verse 3.

The composition is a setting of those two lines. The first line – ‘”Pa hyd? Pa hyd? Dychwelwch feibion Adda” (“How long? How long? Return ye sons of Adam”)’ – extends from near the beginning of the piece to the halfway-point. After a brief pause (at 1.35 mins), the second line – ‘”Pa hyd? Pa hyd, yr erlidiwch Gristionogion duwiol?” (“How long? How long, will ye persecute the godly Christians?”)’ – is taken up. Again, the reading of these lines from the source text is treated using a complex of processes, including time-stretching, harmonic extraction, desynchronous overlays, and sample editing.

Jones wrote that Thomas heard no ‘gingle’ (or jingle) in the singing. By which he may have wished to convey that this was not, in the manner of contemporary folk music, a song with a jaunty tune and a verse and chorus structure, to which words were adapted. Rather, it was ‘like the anthem way of singing or rather after the manner of the ancient Hebrews (in which there was little or no gingle, but tunes adjusted to the parts and measure of the words sung)’.
In the composition, the structure of the solemn and ethereal ‘choral’ section is, for the most part, made up of two- and three-part harmonies moving together. Underneath, there is a more abstracted tonal passage of harmonics – extracted from the same temporally-stretched source material as the ‘choral’ section – which serves as an ‘instrumental’ accompaniment. In allowing the spoken text to determine the melodic elements, the composition honours the principle of adjusting the tune to the ‘measure of the words sung’.

Source Text
I am now to give an account of another kind of apparition, which came to pass in a time of persecution upon the Dissenters in Charles II’s time. There lived at a place called the Pant in Carmarthenshire (which, I think, is between Carmathen and Laugharne towns) one Mr David Thomas, a holy man who worshiped the Lord with great devotion and humility. He was also a gifted brother, and sometimes preached.

On a certain night, for the sake of privacy he went into a room (which was out of the house, but nearly adjoining to it) in order to read and pray. As he was at prayer, and very highly taken up into a heavenly frame, the room was suddenly enlightened to the degree that the light of the candle was swallowed up by a greater light, and became invisible. With, or in, that light a company of spirits (like children in bright clothing, and very beautiful) appeared and sung. But he remembered only one word of it: ‘Pa hyd? Pa hyd? Dychwelwch feibion Adda’ (‘How long? How long? Return ye sons of Adam’), something like Psalm 90, verse 3. After a time, he lost sight of them, and the light of the candle again came to appear when the greater light of the glorious company was gone. He was immersed in the heavenly disposition, and he fell down to thank and praise the Lord. While at this, the room enlightened again, and again the light of the candle became invisible and the glorious company sung. He was so ravished and amazed at what he saw and heard that he could remember only the following words: ‘Pa hyd? Pa hyd, yr erlidiwch Gristionogion duwiol?' (‘How long? How long, will ye persecute the godly Christians?’). After a while, they departed and the candle-light appear­ed. Any Christian who enjoyed much of God’s presence will easily believe that David Thomas was now lifted up very high in the spiritual life by this extraordinary visitation from Heaven.

Here appears no gingle in the singing, so that it appears like the anthem way of singing or rather after the manner of the ancient Hebrews (in which there was little or no gingle, but tunes adjusted to the parts and measure of the words sung).[i] After this, he appeared to be greatly mortified to the things of time. He did not speak much, yet seemed to be a full vessel. He seemed to care little but for the things of the spiritual world and seemed like one who had a constant calmness and serenity in his mind. Christians who have had the extraordinary presence of God in a less measure than Mr Thomas did do know from their own experience that it leaves a serious humble sweet calmness after it, which continues to part of the next day.

But the sons of infidelity will question the truth, and cannot believe that the angels of Heaven did thus appear to any man. Some of the boldest and crudest of them may mock and ridicule the account. But why so? Did not the angels of God appear so many in times of old to Abraham, Lot, Jacob, Gideon, Manoah, David, Zechariah, and Cornelius, etc? I grant there is less necessity (and, therefore, they more seldom appear) now, when revelation is complete. But doth not the Apostle say to the Christians of the New Testament: ‘Ye are come to Mount Sion … to the spirits of just men made perfect’, and to thousands of angels, etc (Hebrews 12.22, 23)? That is, ye are come, through the grace of the Gospel dispensation, into union and communion with the members and company of the Church above. And, is it unreasonable to think that some of them may, upon some occasions, appear to some of their friends below? They are said to serve the heirs of salvation and to protect the saints (Hebrews 1.54, Psalm 36.7). And, is it unreasonable to think that they should sometimes appear upon great occasions to their friends whom they serve? There are reasons for their appearing sometimes to evidence the kindness of God administered through them, and to help the belief of it; to help the faith of eternity and the world to come; to prevent Atheism, Deism, and Sadducism; and to help to prepare for eternity. On the other hand, there are reasons against their appearing often, for the appearance of them is very discomposing and cannot be born without some inconvenience to the body, if not to the mind, in one respect or other. They also convey the souls of the saints to Heaven after death (Luke 16.22) – then they will surely appear to the soul. And, is it unreasonable and unlikely that they should sometimes appear to the whole man before death. The primitive Church believed that an angel attended every saint; they said: ‘It is his angel’ (Acts 12.15). They are worse than the Pharisees (and that is bad enough) who deny the being of angels (Acts 23.7-10).

But to soften the displeasure of the sons of infidelity (for unbelief is very niggard in favours to God’s people), I do not plead that they were angels (strictly so called) who appeared to the holy man David Thomas. For we never read that the angels did (for they should not) appear like children, for nothing childish belongs to them. Neither is it reasonable to think that they were the most eminent of the spirits of just men made perfect, who have more perfectly out grown all childishness in the spiritual life. More likely, they were some of the inferior saint in glory and perhaps indeed godly children who received grace in their infancy died and were received into glory. These might properly appear like children in glory and not as grown men, as the more perfect saints and angels do and should appear.

Source Reference
'The Appearance of Evil', 61.


from Noisome Spirits [album], released July 15, 2021


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John Harvey Ceredigion, UK

I’m a practitioner and historian of sound art and visual art, and Emeritus Professor of Art at the School of Art, Aberystwyth University, UK. My research field is the sonic and visual culture of religion. I explore the sonic articulations of the Christian religion by engaging visual, textual, and audible sources, theological and cultural ideas, and systemic and audiovisualogical processes. ... more

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