I was introduced to music at an early age and was mesmerized by classical works like Stravinsky's Firebird and Vivaldi's Four Seasons. I started playing violin when I was just three years old, but reading music proved to be a challenge for me. In middle school, I attended the American Boychoir School - an all-boys boarding school where we had daily rehearsals and music theory training. We toured around the US and internationally performing concerts, including singing with renowned orchestras like the New York Philharmonic under Kurt Masur and the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Seji Ozawa.
It wasn't until I discovered notation software on the family computer when I was 14 that I found my true passion for composing music. It became my meditation and outlet for expressing things that couldn't be put into words. You can listen to some of my first compositions below.
Age 15: Early Works
In 2009 I founded MemberMouse, a tool that empowers online businesses to create membership sites, protect content and manage members. Over 14 years I grew it into a multi-million dollar business with 10 employees that served tens of thousands of customers. I sold the company in January 2023.
I bootstrapped the business from the beginning; funding the company by taking on consulting jobs as a software engineer. I would take business calls in a utility closet at the office and work nights on MemberMouse.
Getting traction was really tough and I felt a lot of self-doubt. One night I was feeling so stressed that I cried deeply because I couldn't see how it was going to work. Even then, there was something inside me that trusted things would work out and that helped me to keep going.
After 5 years MemberMouse was profitable enough to pay me a salary and I dropped my consulting work and focused full-time on growing the company. During that time, I played every role in the business for some time from development to sales to support. I learned to manage product lifecycles, provide good customer support, manage expectations, build a great team and enjoy the process of collaboration.
In 2018, I started an entrepreneurship podcast with a spiritual angle and through that experience I learned to befriend nervousness, be vulnerable, ask good questions, and read the energetic flow of a conversation.
Towards the end of my time with the company something within me was telling me it was time to let go and move on. I had many sleepless nights wrestling with the decision to let go and move on from something I'd spent 14 years building.
In early December 2022, the ideal buyer manifested and everything worked out better than I could've asked for. My transition responsibilities were minimal, my team was happy, MemberMouse had a bright future ahead with a capable leader and my energy was freed up to take everything I'd learned and pursue my passions.
After college my music production dropped off significantly as I focused my attention on finding a job and making a living. This was a challenging time for me as a composer. Sometimes years would go by without writing anything and I was afraid that I'd lost the ability. But whenever I'd sit down at the piano and make space for music to enter into my life, it came back. The secret was just showing up. Showing up meant writing no matter what I thought about the quality. My hard drives are filled with more unfinished works than finished ones. Even though most of them will never be heard, they are present in each finished work to some degree.
Ever since I started composing, I've had a dream to have my music performed by a live orchestra.
At times I could give myself a thrill by closing my eyes, seeing the room and the members of the orchestra and feeling myself there. At other times I was bombarded by thoughts of self-doubt: "I have no idea how to begin to find an orchestra." "I'm not educated enough to be a real composer." "I won't be able to afford it."
On my journey of spiritual growth I've learned to quiet my mind and listen to the voice of intuition within. As I've oriented towards my intuition, I've become less concerned about how things were going to happen and chose to trust that it would happen somehow.
One day, I received an email from the Northern Film Orchestra saying they had some spaces available for a recording session where the expense would be shared between a number of composers. Almost instantaneously I felt a charge of energy within me that said, "this is it!" I responded to the email saying I was interested, despite the fact that I didn't feel prepared, I trusted the feeling.
While traveling from the US to England for the session, I listened to the mockups of the pieces I was going to record over and over again. Almost every time I listened to them I was transported to the upcoming day of the session and felt so much gratitude that tears came to my eyes.
On November 15, 2021 I found myself in the surreal position of sitting in The Stoller Hall in Manchester, England along with the 60 members of the Northern Film Orchestra with music I had written nearly two decades ago printed out and placed on their stands. Over the next hour and half I got to live my dream. I created this behind-the-scenes documentary to share the journey with you.
"Escape": Mockup vs. Orchestra Performance
One of the pieces we recorded that day was Escape. Below is a recording of my original mockup performed on a Roland XP-80 synthesizer and a recording of the orchestra performing the same piece. 🤯
Meditation Influenced My Music
In 2015 a friend invited me to attend a gong fu tea ceremony. I had such a profound experience that I started visiting with the tea master twice a week to learn the art of brewing tea (aka gong fu tea). The practice of working with tea helped me start to shift my attention from external experiences to internal energies. As I became more sensitive to the inner world I started eating different foods, hanging out at different places and spending time with different people.
I began attending Zazen meditations at a Buddhist monastery. At this time, I found meditation almost unbearable. For me it felt like my mind was crashing over me like waves in the ocean. It rebelled against sitting still because stillness is death to the mind.
I ended up finding a Guru and getting initiated in a lineage of Kundalini Maha Yoga. My Guru gave me specific practices to do every day which intensified my spiritual awakening. I visited my Guru's ashram in India a few times for over a month at a time. Twice I committed to being in complete silence for 40 days while doing 5-6 hours of practices a day. These experiences completely shifted how I relate to the world. My perception of subtle energy became more fine-tuned and tangible. In silence, the noise of the world dissipated like the Sun setting and in that darkness the stars of internal perception shone bright.
Now with over 3,600 hours of different meditation practices under my belt, my mind is still there but my relationship to it is completely different. Now I know I'm not my mind so I don't let it drag me around as much.
Today I'm dedicated to being a coach and creating safe space for people so they can experience the truth of who they are, discover their purpose and create a life aligned with what's most meaningful to them. Ultimately my own journey has taught me that when we look within ourselves and connect with our innermost essence, we can find the courage to be who we are meant to be and live our truth.
When I was growing up and didn't know how to speak to my feelings, I wrote music so I could share a part of myself with the world.
When I started my software company I was shy and reserved so the best way I could be of service was to build a tool for people to use. As my role evolved from being a developer to being a leader, I helped by overcoming my need for control which led to creating an environment where my customers and team could thrive.
As the host of a podcast I was helping my guests share authentically about themselves by getting past my own self-consciousness allowing me to be present, hold space for them and ask thoughtful questions.
Through my experience serving tea I learned to feel empathy in a nonjudgemental way enabling me to create a safe container for guests to experience stillness within themselves and speak to what was most present for them.
More and more coaching has entered into all aspects of my life. Not because I was seeking to be a coach but because a natural byproduct of me doing the work in my own life has helped me empathize more deeply with others. I look at coaching as an evolving art of relating. Like composing music it's about listening, harmony, give and take, textures, pauses and flow.
Transformation is something we can create space for and invite in. It's not something that can be forced.
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© 2023 Eric Turnnessen. All rights reserved.