NILES - Southwest Michigan high school bands took center stage Wednesday after spending the fall playing second fiddle to football teams.

Bands from 10 high schools performed at the annual Southwest Michigan Band and Orchestra Association's marching festival at Niles High School.

They played a wide variety of music, from Broadway shows like "Les Miserables" and "Grease" to medleys paying tribute to the music of New Orleans.

Schools participating were Benton Harbor, Berrien Springs, Bridgman, Buchanan, Cassopolis, Dowagiac, Edwardsburg, New Buffalo, River Valley and Niles.

The high schools' 15-minute shows featured different marching styles from the traditional most schools used to the high-stepping style of Benton Harbor's band.

The bands earned ratings from judges rather than compete against each other.

The Bridgman High School band was the first to take the field, performing a medley from "Grease," which band members hoped would earn them another Division I rating. This year's seniors have earned a "I" rating each year of their high school career, an achievement the school hadn't seen for 20 years.

For Bridgman seniors Aaron Heaton and Monika Ansinn, the festival was fun but also a little bittersweet as their high school marching band careers draw to a close. They are competing Saturday in the Lakeshore Invitational as are most other area schools and have another festival to participate in.

"I love marching band, and it's almost the end of the season," Aaron said. He plays alto saxophone. "It's stressful but it's also a lot of fun."

Monika is one of the drum majors and plays the trombone and French horn. She said she likes getting the chance to conduct the band and enjoys going to festivals.

"It's so great to be out there conducting," she said.

She said she likes getting the chance to see other bands because she loves music and has friends in the other bands.

"We watch everybody else. We'll be competing against some (at Lakeshore), but also we're there to support the other schools," she said. "The band doesn't always get the respect that the sports teams do. We're forgotten sometimes. Here, we get the respect."

Berrien Springs High School band members were the last to perform before the "half time" break, playing a variety of New Orleans style music, including "A Closer Walk with Thee," "Birth of the Blues" and "When the Saints Come Marching In."

The band had to deal with adversity because their new director didn't start work until right before the start of school.

Band director Andrew Raven said the festival serves a couple different purposes.

"It's fun for them to do," he said. "It teaches them how to grow in their music and their marching. It also is something that the community can be proud of. It's a good showcase for the community."

He just graduated from college in the spring and said leading the band at the festival reminds him of his high school days when he played in the band in Greenville.

"You see a lot of people you know at festival," he said. "Band is a community. It's like there's two degrees of separation when band members meet. There are a lot of friendships."