From Home to Carnegie Hall


Don Tjossem, KP News

Tenor Cathy Williams, circled, performs at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Photo courtesy DCINY

How often has someone dreamed of singing in Carnegie Hall and accomplished it? Cathy Williams of Home had that dream and made it come true this spring. 

After a long interest in singing and music, dating back to her childhood days, Williams performed at Carnegie Hall as part of the South Sound Classical Choir, with 250 other singers from around the world, in “Dreamweaver,” conducted by Carnegie Hall’s composer-in-residence James Maeders. The composer of this Norwegian medieval folk poem, Ola Gjello, played the piano for the performance as the artist-in-residence.

An audience of over 1,000 people attended the 40-minute performance. The concert was sponsored by Distinguished Concerts International of New York (DCINY). Twenty-two choral groups from all over the world participated in the performance.

When the choir was on stage, Williams said she was able to wave at her husband, Ted, who had come to New York with her. When the concert began, she said she thought to herself, “Oh my gosh! Here I am dead center in front of the front row.”

She said one of the most memorable experiences was wandering the lobby display, viewing the portraits and memorabilia of the world’s finest classical music performers to appear here since Carnegie Hall was built in 1891. Williams said to herself, “I performed on the same stage as these famous musicians.”

Members of the South Sound Classical Choir were invited to return to Carnegie Hall for next year’s program, she said.

When Williams joined the choir in 2001, she thought of it as a tribute to her mother’s musical talent. Music was always part of her formative years, as her parents, Mary and Ivar Highberg, were on the concert board at the China Lake Naval Weapons Center in California, where she grew up. Musicians would often practice during the day at their home before performing a concert later that evening. When the famous piano duo of Ferrante and Teicher arrived in town for a concert, the Highberg family was able to place two pianos in their home for the practice sessions. When Williams was very young, she got to stay home from school and turn pages for some of the performers.

Williams began singing in her church choir when she was 6 years old. She played the guitar and other instruments as her interest in music grew. She graduated from Whitman College with a major in sociology and a minor in psychology. Most of her extracurricular activities involved music. After graduating, she and a few friends earned extra money over the weekends by busking on the streets of Seattle.

During her professional career at Weyerhaeuser, Williams sang in a group called the Sweat Band that performed folk and fiddle tunes for company picnics and parties. Though she is now retired, she said the Sweat Band still gets together on an informal basis for the enjoyment of the band members.

Williams’s mother taught piano lessons in the family home in the town of Home for many Key Peninsula students, some of whom may remember her to this day.