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Music for a cause

NORTHAMPTON — On certain sunny weekday afternoons, Sayla Russell-Blake can be found playing her violin on Main Street in Northampton.

Sayla isn’t an out-of-work music student looking for extra cash — she’s 7, and she’s playing to raise money in support of those with cancer.

One day last week, she spent almost an hour in the 90-degree heat, playing her favorite songs. She’s matter-of-fact about her gig, she knows what she wants to do and how to do it.

“My dad died of cancer,” she said. “I’m getting money for cancer.” As of Wednesday, her third time out, Sayla had collected $15 for the cause. Her mother, Jill Blake, says there is no particular goal of how much her daughter wants to raise. Blake said she likes the idea of Sayla choosing to put her skills to work for something good.

Blake says she’s happy that Sayla has worked at something like this at such a young age. “We all want our kids to do that and if she can do that now at 7, I’m super proud of her,” she said, as she stood by while her daughter played.

Sayla considered other means of raising money, including some tried and true, but they weren’t for her.

“In lemonade you can only make two kinds of lemonade. In violin you can play a whole bunch of songs,” she said.

She realizes her chosen instrument makes it easier for this choice, reflecting that one of her friends doesn’t have the luxury.

“Alice plays the piano but a piano is too big to have on the street,” she said.

Sayla had taken lessons a half hour once a week for a year and a half with local musician Katherine First.

Sayla’s street gigs tend to run about for 20 or 30 minutes. At first she just wanted to play to make money, Blake said, but she and Christine Russell, Sayla’s other mother, pushed Sayla to find a higher purpose.

“We said ‘OK, if you’re going to make money what can you do with it,’” she said.

“She was obviously very upset about her father and so she decided that’s where she wanted her money to go.”

He died, according to Jill Blake, less than a year ago.

The money will be given to the Cancer Connection, a Northampton nonprofit that offers free advocacy and support for people with cancer and their family and caregivers.

Sayla said she intends to keep playing her favorites, like the song Angelina Baker, once or twice a week until it’s time to go back to school.

She is a second grader at the Helen E. James School in Williamsburg. The family lives on Laurel Road in Haydenville.

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