MARLBOROUGH/WESTBOROUGH – Caleb Whelden of Westborough developed an interest in a cappella music while he was a high school student growing up in Nantucket.
Now, he’s sharing his passion for music with students at Marlborough High School (MHS).
He and Shannon McNulty began codirecting MHS’s a cappella group Voices ReChoired as an after-school activity in 2016. Concurrently, he operated his sound engineering and plumbing companies.
Whelden has now been working since January as MHS’s long-term substitute choral music teacher.
“I’d been with Voices ReChoired at MHS for six years and really felt at home,” he said. “It’s where I wanted to be if I was to ever teach.”
Whelden became fascinated in high school by a visiting a cappella group from New York’s Ithaca College known as Ithacappella.
“The outgoing nature of the group’s members and their ability to interact with the audience was something that I immediately wanted to learn how to do,” he said.
Soon afterward, Whelden joined his high school a cappella group. He went on to study music education at Ithaca, where he sang with Ithacappella for four years.
“The day I found out that I got in Ithacappella, it felt like I was exactly where I should be,” he said.
His most valuable lesson learned at Ithaca was to pique students’ interest.
“They teach you to make it fun and keep it moving,” he said. “Leaving Ithaca, I felt really confident with lesson planning and classroom management.”
During summers while studying at Ithaca, and after graduating in 2003, Whelden sang a cappella on Nantucket streets for passersby with a group called the CobbleTones.
“People weren’t necessarily planning to stop and watch, so I learned a lot about keeping an audience engaged,” he explained.
Whelden has also performed with several other a cappella acts, most notably the Boston-based Five O’Clock Shadow. He joined the group for its full-time fall 2003 tour.
Since then, he became Five O’Clock Shadow’s music director. They’ve released albums and continue to perform shows on a part-time basis.
Along the way, Whelden worked as a sound engineer and ultimately opened Clarus Productions in 2012. His company specializes in a cappella sound.
“There’s a real need for sound engineers for a cappella at all levels – high school, college and professional,” he said. “I learned from incredibly talented sound engineers while performing on the road.”
Also in 2012, he opened a one-man plumbing business. His company grew to 12 employees with nine trucks and a rented shop. He sold his plumbing business in December 2021 to pursue teaching music.
“Plumbing was a way to pay the bills while I was singing,” he explained. “It kept snowballing to the point where I felt stuck in it.”
In addition to directing MHS’s Voices ReChoired, Whelden now directs two other choruses and teaches three music classes.
“It’s been a rollercoaster,” he said of the past few months. “While it’s been a bit of trial and error for me, it’s also been an easy transition because everyone at MHS has been so helpful.”