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Music to the ears of disaster victims

The music was as beautiful as the scenery.

Against the backdrop of deep blue water and the silhouette of Mount Rainier, Claire Sledd played jigs, polkas, reels and horn pipes on her violin.

As she fiddled, she slowly walked down the aisles of the ferry Kaleetan, bound for Seattle. She was followed by her mother, Elaine, who carried a can and a sign that explained all donation would go to the victims of the recent terrorist attacks.

Claire was greeted by smiles, awarded with applause and commuters donated generously.

“I like to see young people doing something positive. It wasn’t until she got close that I realized why she was doing it. She’s a beautiful, talented young lady,” said Elspeth Pope of Shelton, who donated a few dollars to the cause.

Most riders were surprised to learn she is just 11 years old. After all, she played with great poise and all from memory.

Clair said she got the idea to raise money while discussing the tragedy with her mother.

“My mom asked what we could do to help. I’ve played the violin to raise money before, for a friend’s dance competition, and I thought it would be a good idea,” said Claire, who has been playing the violin since she was 4.

Her initial goal was to raise $500. When she passed that, she raised her sights to $1,000. Now she is aiming to earn $1,500 for donation to the American Red Cross.

“Getting up the courage to play was hard at first. I was afraid people wouldn’t like what I was playing. But they clapped and were really supportive, and I started not to be so nervous,” said Claire, a seventh grader in Central Kitsap Junior High School’s Magnet program for gifted students.

She also has played to raise money on the San Juan Island ferry, at a Mariners game, at markets on Orcas Island and at the Seattle, Port Orchard and Bremerton ferry docks.

Claire estimates that since the tragedy struck, she has played about five hours each weekend for donations.

She played a variety of tunes, some fast and some slow. Children danced to the lively music and the slower tunes moved others’ hearts.

“My heart sang when I heard her playing the violin,” said Steven Siegal of Silverdale. “I think about the New York victims all the time and I felt I should give something.”

Toward the end of the ride, Elaine urged Clair to play a classical tune, but she declined.

“She thinks people won’t like it,” Elaine said.

Instead, she broke into a lively fiddle tune which ended in a round of applause.

“Should I get your autograph now, or wait until you become famous,” joked Oscar Dukes, of Port Orchard. “You’re on your way.”

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