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“As a kid, I used to write my songs down in a little notebook and then would forget how they’d go,” laughs Emma Gentry. Music has always been a major part of her life; she grew up listening to her parents’ music around the house. Then, when Emma learned to play the guitar as a freshman in high school, she began to write songs more seriously. The guitar gave her the opportunity to play around with chords and create actual melodies for her songs. Throughout high school, she worked to build a collection of music. She released the culmination of these songs during her first year at JMU in her EP, Jewel Tones, under the name Emma Belle. 

For the past three years, Emma is working to refine and produce more music. Currently, Emma has been writing more songs as she works to release her debut album. Reflecting on the songs, Emma describes that they all fit “in this pocket of life ... and represent this time period.” Her songs embody what it is like to move through college and undergo this transitional phase of life. 

A lot of her inspiration comes from a summer experience in Yellowstone National Park. The summer after her first year at JMU, Emma got a job working in Yellowstone. She reveals this experience was “transformative” and “full of growth.” When asked about her album, she says the twelve songs on her album were written in the time she describes as “post-Yellowstone.” Currently, Emma is working on recording her songs in Staunton, and hopes to release her album by graduation. 

For the Senior double major in English and Religion with a minor in Honors Interdisciplinary Studies, graduation is quickly approaching. Originally, Emma came to JMU because she “really liked the mountains” and heard good things from her friends. Throughout her time here, Emma has realized how JMU is a “big school with a small school feel.” One way that Emma has achieved this feeling of an on-campus family is through the English department. She states that one of her most impactful experiences at JMU has been “getting to know the English faculty.” Through her English major, she has grown into a “much better reader and writer” who has learned “how to view the world in a more complex way.” 

Throughout her influential experiences at JMU and beyond, Emma has compiled an impressive number of projects, papers, and songs. Currently, for her Senior Honors Project, Emma is participating in the new Senior Portfolio Project. The Portfolio Project is a two-semester long endeavor that works to present noteworthy accomplishments. Emma believes that the project is “representative of [her].” This is a great option for Emma because she can include her music in her portfolio. Emma says, “it’s a really good thing to show who you are in and out of school.” As she works on reflecting and captioning the artifacts, Emma is building a digital platform that is truly representative of her as an individual. She’s certainly come a long way from jotting down song lyrics in a little notebook, and she only has more to come. 

Story written by Kate Peppiatt, '23

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