Last night the Neighborhood Music School kicked off its sixth annual Performathon, a marathon of music and dance performances to raise funds for the school’s financial aid program.

The Neighborhood Music School is a non-profit community arts school offering music and dance lessons to students of all ages, ranging from infants to senior citizens. In the next six days, over 300 of the school’s students will perform, collecting money from sponsors for their performances.

Students asked various sponsors to pledge to donate money. New Haven Savings Bank and Consolidated Insurance Trust both pledged to donate $0.50 for every dollar the students raise.

In 2001, the school awarded $103,000 in financial aid to over 270 students. At last year’s Performathon, students raised $11,500. The goal for this year’s Performathon is to raise $20,000.

“Our mission is to increase access to high quality arts programs,” said Michelle Maitland, Public Relations and Programs coordinator for the school. “So it’s important for everyone in the school to contribute to that mission by playing joyfully and giving back.”

Tuesday night’s recital featured 10 performers. Cellist Emily McGalliard, who performed as part of a trio that also featured a piano and violin, said it was important for her to provide others the opportunity to experience music.

“If we can do something that supports the idea of playing by playing ourselves, that’s just great,” she said of the Performathon.

Pianist John Prins, a fellow member of McGalliard’s ensemble, said the Neighborhood Music School is a community treasure.

“The fact that they can offer so much financial aid is wonderful,” Prins said.

Performathon began when school Executive Director Lawrence Zukof came to the Neighborhood Music School six years ago, bringing the idea for Performathon with him.

Maitland said the popularity of the Performathon has grown dramatically over the years. The first Performathon was held on a single Saturday, Maitland said, but the concept has since expanded to include a week’s worth of recitals.

Despite the large increase in participation, Maitland said the school still continues to encourage more students to perform.

“Financial aid is an ever-increasing need, and the more recitals we can have, the better off we are,” she said.

Planning for this year’s event began in September, and culminates in this week’s performances. More recitals will take place tonight, Thursday night, and all weekend.