By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
MARLBOROUGH – Shannon McNulty finds joy in a cappella music.
She made this realization both before and after becoming the choral director at Marlborough High School (MHS) in 2008.
“A cappella challenges you to really be creative, to interpret something in a new way that nobody else has thought of before,” she said.
Discovering musical niche
McNulty’s love for music began at an early age. The passion further developed when she studied music at Ithaca College in New York.
More precisely, McNulty discovered her musical niche as a college sophomore in 2005. That’s when she joined Ithaca’s female contemporary a cappella group known as Premium Blend.
“My interest in music started before I could talk,” she recalled. “An interest in a cappella started for me in college. It’s been an ever-present part of my life since then.”
McNulty performed with Premium Blend at on-campus venues and out-of-state college tours. It gave her an opportunity to explore musical styles that differed from her curriculum.
“I was studying opera, classical music,” she noted. “I’m always intrigued by anything that’s a challenge and will help me grow as a musician. For me, a cappella was new and exciting.”
A cappella and like-minded musicians taught McNulty valuable lessons.
“I was approaching music with a level of seriousness and lost a huge amount of the joy,” she acknowledged. “Once I joined Premium Blend and performed with people with the same passion, it really brought the joy back for me.
“You can be technically perfect, but it’s pretty obvious if you don’t love what you’re doing,” she continued. “An audience will pick up on that real quickly.”
During Premium Blend’s 2006 tour to Boston, McNulty met her now-husband Tyson. He sang with the a cappella group called the MIT Logarhythms.
“Those were the people I bonded with in college,” McNulty said of her fellow a cappella vocalists.
Moves to Boston and MHS
McNulty graduated from Ithaca with bachelor’s degrees in music education and vocal performance in January 2008. Soon afterward, she moved to Boston and began pursuing a master’s degree online in music education at Boston University.
Also in 2008, she got hired as the MHS choral director.
From the start at MHS, McNulty has directed two traditional ensembles: the Mixed Choir and the a Cappella Chorus.
Within a few years, she and Caleb Whelden started co-directing a contemporary a cappella group called Voices ReChoired as an after-school activity. Whelden is also an Ithaca alum and sang with the college’s male a cappella group called Ithacappella.
Understanding how Premium Blend broadened her musical explorations, McNulty wanted to offer MHS students a similar experience with varying a cappella approaches.
“The A Cappella Choir does primarily traditional choral pieces and Voices ReChoired does strictly contemporary pop music,” she explained. “Voices ReChoired is a lot like what Premium Blend was.”
Spotlight on performing again
Another similarity between McNulty’s college years and now is that she’s once again performing a cappella herself. She’s been singing with the Boston-based group Blacklight Vocals since 2017.
“A lot of joy comes with teaching students how to use their voices to make beautiful music together, but I wasn’t actually experiencing that for myself because I wasn’t singing in a group,” she recounted. “I was missing some of that joy.”
Venues where she’s performed with Blacklight range from frequent gigs at a Salem club to halftime entertainment for a college football game in Indianapolis.
“I’ve always loved performing and for a long time, I think I was living vicariously through the students,” McNulty shared. “At some point, I needed to get back on stage and do it for myself. Performing with other adults is a nice creative outlet for me.”