The holiday season is a time filled with traditions, and one tradition that Pleasanton's Kent Pryor cherishes is gathering around a piano to sing and play Christmas carols and holiday songs.
"I grew up with an Emerson upright piano made in the 1890s," Pryor recently told me at a holiday party held in the home of Don and Frances Hewitt. "My great-grandfather had the piano shipped from Boston around the horn of South America to Eureka."
Pryor explained that his great-grandparents, George Kellogg and DeEtte Felt -- both born in the 1850s -- moved into a Victorian home at 10th and J streets in Eureka after George had worked his way up from accountant to secretary-manager of the Humboldt County Chamber of Commerce.
Among their new furnishings was the Emerson upright piano. Pryor's great-grandmother was a music teacher, so her two daughters learned to play piano on the Emerson, as did Pryor's mother.
"Although many people have told me my mother played the piano beautifully, I don't remember hearing her play," said Pryor, who is unsure why his mother let the piano stand silent for so many years after she inherited it.
Pryor himself began to play the Emerson piano when in the sixth grade he took trombone lessons and participated in classroom singing: "I discovered a new language in musical notation and realized I had an ear for music," he said.
This prompted him to borrow the school's music sheets and apply the notes to the piano. To assist her son, Pryor's mother, whose name was Cherrill, gave him her music lesson books as he taught himself to play.
After playing in the school band in junior high, Pryor played in two dance bands in high school and even arranged a few of their songs. His trombone accompanied him to Humboldt State where he and another student he had known named Alice became "better" friends.
"Her family loved to sing Christmas carols," Pryor said, smiling.
In time, Pryor and Alice got married, and in 1973, along with the Emerson piano, they moved to Pleasanton. Pryor worked from 1968 to 1978 as an electrical engineer and manager at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. He then worked for two decades during Silicon Valley booming years, retiring in 2001.
Today, Pryor and Alice volunteer their time with the Pleasanton Tulancingo Sister City Association. Their sons Charley, 41, and Matt, 36, both of whom took piano lessons, live in San Diego with their families.
Pryor finds time each holiday season to play the old Emerson piano as friends and family gather for carols and songs, keeping alive a long family tradition. Although he claims he is "technically not a good player due to a lack of training and a dislocated finger," this is not true.
At the Hewitt's holiday party, Alice, Sharon Xavier de Sousa, Jennifer Rowland and I sang as Pryor accompanied our voices on the Hewitt's baby grand piano. Trust me: Kent Pryor plays very, very well.
Contact Jim Ott at firstname.lastname@example.org.