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The refrain of success

Soon Hee Newbold ('96) and Erin Rettig ('96) excel in their musical careers and beyond
By Jamie Marsh

JMU grads Soon Hee Newbold ('96) and Erin Rettig ('96) agree that JMU was a foundational part of their success.

Soon Hee Newbold ('96) and Erin Rettig ('96) agree that JMU was a foundational part of their success.

In the past few years, Soon Hee Newbold ('96) has traveled to exotic lands for world premieres of her musical compositions and festivals in her honor. Her husband, Erin Rettig ('96) has worked alongside Hollywood giants as a sound engineer for films like Night at the Museum, Munich and the X-Men series. They are both excelling in their musical careers and amassing enviable achievements — a refrain that began on the campus of James Madison University.

Began in the music department

They met in the music department. Newbold was concertmaster of the JMU orchestras, and Rettig played principal cello. As first-year students, they had both declared double majors in music performance and pre-med, though Newbold eventually switched from pre-med to music industry. She liked that JMU was strong in all her interests: science, business, and music. "I loved the feel of JMU because of the attitudes of the faculty, the size of the school, and the music industry program," she recalls. Rettig had become familiar with JMU's music program and staff from attending orchestra camps during high school. "I hoped to really focus and study, and [then] decide what I really wanted to do with the rest of my life," he says. "JMU gave me a great opportunity to study and grow, personally and intellectually."

After graduation, emerging interests

After graduation, the couple wed and moved to Orlando, playing in professional orchestras and at Walt Disney World. They both played back up to big names like Neil Sedaka and Jodi Benson and appeared in a music video with Shakira. Newbold was gaining more of a passion for film, while Rettig became interested in audio production and engineering.

Pursuing an array of related interests is not unusual for young alumni, according to George Sparks, dean of JMU's College of Visual and Performing Arts. "JMU grads leave with a broad-based education that make them versatile, well-rounded people. Soon Hee and Erin are signifiers of the really fine foundational education that you get in liberal arts. You can direct those skills into many different paths." For example, both Newbold and Rettig learned acuity of hearing and above par aural skills from playing in ensembles, Sparks says.

Film careers

The duo continued to leverage those skills when, four years later, they moved to Los Angeles. Newbold's acting career expanded into independent feature films, and she became a published composer through the FJH Music Publishing Company. Today, she spends the majority of her time composing and traveling the world as a guest conductor and clinician for various schools, festivals, and conferences. "I love having a schedule that is flexible and getting to do things that I love for a living," she says.

For Rettig, film credits from blockbusters like Shark Tale and The Ring Two, are only parts of the story. "I am very fortunate to work with some of the most talented and prolific people in the film business and film sound business," he says. "They are the absolute best at what they do, and expect nothing less from all that work with them."

Today, at the top of their industries, both say they love their work. Yet they shrug off the idea that they're approaching the status of 'famous' in their industries. "We certainly have a long way to go in life and in our careers," Newbold says. "I don't think we'll ever have the feeling that we've 'made it,' but we do feel we've had a few successes."

Martial arts for recreation

In addition to professional achievements, Rettig points out recreational pursuits that they enjoy. "Martial arts is a pretty big part of our life," he says. Rettig holds a First Degree Black Belt in Taekwondo and Newbold has earned a Third Degree Black Belt in taekwondo, a Second Degree Black in hapkido, and a Black Belt in kigumdo — a Korean martial art using swords. Rettig is also an aviator with a Single Engine Land pilot's license. To be so successful in a variety of pursuits is increasingly part of what defines JMU graduates, Sparks says. "It is not that unusual for a JMU grad to rise to the top of every area they pursue. JMU grads are not 'all work and no play,' but are well-rounded, successful people."

Newbold and Rettig concur that JMU was a foundational part of their success. "My overall experiences were invaluable," Newbold says. "I met some of my best friends at JMU, learned to make it in the 'real world,' and just enjoyed my time at Madison."