Jill Purce

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Jill Purce
Jill Purce.jpeg
Jill Purce, 2005
Staffordshire, England
  • Voice teacher
  • therapist
  • author

Jill Purce (born 1947) is a British voice teacher, Family Constellations therapist and author. In the 1970s, Purce developed a new way of working with the voice, introducing the teaching of group overtone chanting, producing a single note whilst amplifying vocal harmonics.[1][2][3][4][5] She is a former fellow of King's College London, Biophysics Department.[6] She produced over 30 books as general editor of the Thames and Hudson Art and Imagination series.[7] Between 1971 and 1974, she worked in Germany with the composer Karlheinz Stockhausen.[8][9][10][11] Since the early 1970s, she has taught diverse forms of contemplative chant, especially overtone chanting. For over 15 years, she has been leading Family Constellations combined with chant.[12][13]

Purce is the author of The Mystic Spiral: Journey of the Soul, a book about the spiral in sacred traditions, art and psychology. She has also written numerous articles.[14]


Purce was born in Staffordshire, England. Educated at Headington School, Oxford, she graduated with a BA in Fine Art from the University of Reading (1970) and Master's degrees from the Chelsea College of Art, London (1970–71), and King's College London.[6]

In a BBC documentary about her, More Ways than One: The Mystic Spiral, Purce described how, through contemplating the patterns in water, she noticed that when flow encounters resistance, first it rotates, then these rotary patterns become individual eddies which separate out as independent forms.[15] This observation of the form-creating principle of flow, resistance, and rotation, became the basis of her research from 1968 until 1974, on the form of the spiral and the theme of the labyrinth in nature, science, art, psychology, and sacred traditions.[9][16][17][18][19]

Purce was awarded a Leverhulme Research Fellowship at King's College London, Biophysics Department, to explore the spiral as a universal structure.[6] Here, she initiated a dialogue between science and spirituality with Maurice Wilkins (Nobel laureate with Watson and Crick for the discovery of DNA), and lectured to the British Society for Social Responsibility in Science.[20] Between 1974 and 1976, she lectured at the Architectural Association School of Architecture and Chelsea College of Art and Design and was a visiting lecturer at numerous universities and art schools, on art and sacred traditions; form and the spiral; and the tradition of music, sound, and the voice as a contemplative practice in diverse cultures.

Her work with the voice was a major impetus behind widespread research into the supposed healing effects of sound from the 1970s onwards.[2][3][21][22][23][24][25]


Purce investigated the effect of sound on matter in the late 1960s, following the work of Hans Jenny, who used fine powders, liquids, and pastes, to show how formless matter takes on diverse forms and complex patterns through sound vibration. Purce also investigated the effect of sound vibrations on fine particles and on water, inspired by the early experiments of Ernst Chladni in 1785 and Margaret Watts Hughes between 1885 and 1904.[26][27][28]

Purce and Stockhausen[edit]

Between June 1971 and 1974, Purce lived in Kürten, Germany, and worked with the composer Karlheinz Stockhausen.[8][9][10][29] Stockhausen had just introduced a simple form of overtone chanting using vowels to the West for the first time with the premiere of Stimmung in December 1968. During the autumn of 1971, Purce toured with Stockhausen and the performances of Stimmung throughout the eastern United States and Canada. She provided him with many ideas about sounds and their effects on matter, which he used to create Alphabet für Liège, a piece demonstrating those effects (1972).[11] Purce took part in performances of Stockhausen's music at various music festivals (Liège, Rencontres Internationales d'Art Contemporain—La Rochelle, and Sainte-Baume—1972, 1973, 1974).[30]

Working with the voice[edit]

Researching the supposed beneficial properties of the voice since 1968 and having spent time with the Gyutö monks before going to Germany in 1971, Purce later continued her studies in the Himalayas with the chantmaster of the Gyutö Tibetan Monastery, Tenpa Gyaltsen, and with the Mongolian Khöömii master, Yavgaan, in order to explore the Tibetan and Mongolian methods of overtone chanting.[31]

Purce's research, lectures, and workshops, have attempted to demonstrate how the human voice might be used to bring about positive psychological, emotional, and physical changes through acting as a link between body and mind, as described in Buddhist and other Eastern traditions.[32][33][34][35][36][37][38][39][40][41][42][43][44][45][46][47][48][49]

Purce has also been invited by several hospitals and schools to explore how these voice techniques might be of positive help to women in childbirth; at the Maudsley Hospital in London, with people suffering from Alzheimer's; at the Royal Free Hospital, London, with people suffering from mental disabilities; at Hawthorn School, with children suffering from physical disabilities; and with people suffering from Chronic fatigue syndrome.[6][50][51][52][53]

In June 1993, Purce gave a lecture and seminar for the English National Opera titled The Healing Power of Opera, as part of the Covent Garden Music Festival, London. She later led the audience in a chanting meditation before the first performance of Jonathan Harvey's opera Inquest of Love for ENO.

In 2003, she was invited to work with nuns and monks in a number of enclosed Christian monastic communities who sing Gregorian chant, particularly Burnham Abbey and Fairacres, Oxford, to teach overtone chanting and other methods to explore ways of reinvigorating and rediscovering the contemplative aspects of chant in Christian traditions.[54]

Family Constellations[edit]

In 1999, as part of the international conference on Family Constellations, and the work of family therapist Bert Hellinger in Wiesloch, Germany, Purce was invited to give an extended workshop to demonstrate her work to Hellinger's students and conference delegates. Influenced by her time in Japan in the early 1980s, where there is a strong tradition of honouring ancestors,[55] Purce developed a process for doing this in her own work, using ceremony and chant to acknowledge excluded family members, both living and dead.[12][13]

Personal life[edit]

Jill Purce is married to author and former biochemist[56] Rupert Sheldrake.[57] They have two sons, biologist Merlin Sheldrake and musician Cosmo Sheldrake.

Selected works[edit]

  • Jill Purce, (1974), The Mystic Spiral: Journey of the Soul, Thames & Hudson.
  • Overtone Chanting Meditations
  • The Healing Voice


  1. ^ "Documentary film on origins of overtone chanting 'Space-Sound-Voice—A quest for the Origin of Harmonics' or 'Raum-Klang-Stimme—Auf Der Such Nach dem Ursprung er Obertone'. A documentary in English and German by Minghao Xu and others 2009, published by Traumzeit Verlag". Archived from the original on 2013-03-27. Retrieved 2013-03-26.
  2. ^ a b van Tongeren, M.C. (2006). Overtone Singing: Physics and Metaphysics of Harmonics in East and West. Centraal Boekhuis. p. 174.
  3. ^ a b Godwin, J. (1991). The Mystery of the Seven Vowels. Phanes Press, US, see quote on p. 55.
  4. ^ Dhingra, D. (1994). "Heavenly Overtones". The Independent (12 May 1994).
  5. ^ Jenkins, L. (1993), "A Bubbling Pot", Classical Music (July): p. 25. (The Composer George Benjamin Is Interviewed about His Experience Learning Overtones with Purce).
  6. ^ a b c d Entry on 'Jill Purce' in Gale Encyclopedia 2001
  7. ^ Thames & Hudson webpage for Art & Imagination series Archived 2016-11-09 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ a b Stockhausen, K. (1978). Texte zur Musik (1970–1977), vol. 4. Cologne: DuMont Buchverlag. pp. 200–1.
  9. ^ a b c Kurtz, M. (1992). Stockhausen: A Biography, translated by Richard Toop. London: Faber & Faber. p. 189.
  10. ^ a b Stockhausen, K. (translated and selected by Tim Nevill). (1989). Towards a Cosmic Music. pp. 15–18.
  11. ^ a b Kurtz, M. (1992). Stockhausen: A Biography, translated by Richard Toop. London: Faber and Faber, pp. 192–93.
  12. ^ a b Troughton, M. (2008). "Tried & Tested—Healing the Family Workshop". Psychologies, p. 37.
  13. ^ a b Mackay, N. (2009). The Science of Family: Working with Ancestral Patterns. O Books, ix.
  14. ^ Purce, J. (1974). The Mystic Spiral, London: Thames & Hudson.
  15. ^ BBC Documentary: More Ways than One, from 0'55" on YouTube
  16. ^ Cott, J. (1973). Stockhausen: Conversations with the Composer. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 175.
  17. ^ Barrière, G. (1975). La Spirale Nature et Mysticisme. Connaissance des arts. p. 46
  18. ^ Joan, E. (2008). Entry for 'Labryrinths, Spirals, and Meanders', in Re-Genesis Encyclopedia.
  19. ^ Fordham, M. (1978). Jungian Psychotherapy: A Study in Analytical Psychology. John Wiley & Sons. p. 42.
  20. ^ BBC Documentary: More Ways than One, see 16'21" on YouTube
  21. ^ The International Sound Healing Conference, Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA, 2008.
  22. ^ Shapiro, E. & Shapiro, D. (1998). 'Voices from the Heart: Inspiration for a Compassionate Future', Random House. pp. 196–202.
  23. ^ Metzner, R. (Ed.). Re-Vision, Journal of Consciousness and Change, Special Issue: The Resonating Universe, vol.10, No.1, Summer 1987.
  24. ^ 'Sound and Healing' with Jeffrey Mishlove on YouTube.
  25. ^ 'Sound, Pattern, and Transformation' with Jeffrey Mishlove on YouTube.
  26. ^ Film by Joseph A. Huber: 'Sound Fixes Pattern'—showing pattern-creating effect of overtone chanting on formless matter, demonstrating the work of Jill Purce. 1995 & 2001 on YouTube.
  27. ^ Film by Jeff Volk, "Of Sound Mind and Body: Music and Vibrational Healing" on YouTube.
  28. ^ Griggs, B. (Dec 1992). Soul Music: Striking a healthy note. Country Living.
  29. ^ Interview with Karlheinz Stockhausen, Sound International Magazine, Oct. 1978.
  30. ^ Stockhausen, K. (1978). DuMont, p. 200-1.
  31. ^ "Documentary film on origins of overtone chanting 'Space-Sound-Voice—A quest for the Origin of Harmonics' and others 2009, published by Traumzeit Verlag (see above reference for more details)". Archived from the original on 2013-03-27. Retrieved 2013-03-26.
  32. ^ Polly Samson. "Getting Those Good Vibrations". The Observer. 7 May 1989.
  33. ^ Alan Franks. The Enchantress. The Times. December 14, 1996.
  34. ^ Michel, A. (1995). Le Livre De L'Essential: Plus De 1000 Idees pour Vivre Autrement. Guides Clés. pp. 73–4.
  35. ^ Satish Kumar, (1991). 'Being In Tune'. Resurgence magazine, Nov/Dec 1991, pp. 28–29.
  36. ^ Hope, M. (1996). The Sirius Connection. Element Books. see p. 185.
  37. ^ Shapiro, E. & Shapiro, D. (1992). The Way Ahead: A Visionary Perspective for the New Millenium, Element Books, pp. 126–130.
  38. ^ Satish Kumar, 'Sound in Mind and Body', in Resurgence Issue, No. 115, Mar–Apr 1986.
  39. ^ International Synergy Journal, No. 2, ed. David Dunn. Los Angeles. pp. 19–22.
  40. ^ Campbell (Ed.), 1991, 'Music Physician: For Times To Come', pp. 238–240.
  41. ^ van Tongeren, M.C. (2006). Overtone Singing. Centraal Boekhuis. p. 4.
  42. ^ Housden, R. (1995). Retreat: Time Apart for Silence & Solitude. London: Harper Collins. pp. 158–161.
  43. ^ van Eersel, P. (2005). Tisseurs de Paix. Le Relié. pp. 13–22, 59.
  44. ^ Berger, J. (1985). About Time. London: Jonathan Cape. pp. 202–9.
  45. ^ Keith Clarke in "The Unbelievable Resonance of Being", The Singer Magazine Vol. 3 No. 1 (Feb/Mar 1995).
  46. ^ Jayne Comins, "Humming Bird", The Singer Magazine (August–September 2000), p. 26.
  47. ^ Patrice van Eersel, "Entretien avec une magicienne du son Archived 2015-06-22 at the Wayback Machine", Nouvelles Clés (November–December 1992), pp. 14–19.
  48. ^ Hale, S., "Universal Chants", Harpers & Queen Magazine (Feb 1985), pp. 83–85.
  49. ^ March, R., "The Healing Voice: Riding Sound to Liberation", The Sun, Santa Fe, New Mexico, Sep 1992.
  50. ^ Lind-Kyle, P. (1992). When Sleeping Beauty Wakes Up: A Woman's Tale of Healing the Immune System and Awakening the Feminine. Portland, Oregon: Swan, Raven & Company. pp. 216–23.
  51. ^ Robinson, J. (Ed.) (1996). The Alternative & Complementary Health Compendium. Bognor Regis, UK: Millenium Profiles. p. 183-4.
  52. ^ van Tongeren, M.C. (2006). Overtone singing. Centraal Boekhuis. p. 212-14.
  53. ^ Campbell (Ed.), 1991, 'Music Physician: For Times To Come', pp. 240–242.
  54. ^ van Tongeren, M.C. (2006). Overtone Singing. Centraal Boekhuis. pp. 209–10 and p. 229.
  55. ^ "Pye. (2007). "Japanese Ancestor Veneration in Comparative Perspective". Dharma World". Archived from the original on 2014-02-03. Retrieved 2013-04-17.
  56. ^ Whitfield, J. (22 January 2004). "Telepathic charm seduces audience at paranormal debate". Nature. 427 (6972): 277. Bibcode:2004Natur.427..277W. doi:10.1038/427277b. PMID 14737136.
  57. ^ Rupert Sheldrake's website

External links[edit]