AGAWAM — Practice and passion propelled two 15-year-olds onto the music stage for a major performance later this month.

Agawam High School ninth graders Enessa Goleneva and Khuong Le are among the students from Western Massachusetts selected to perform at the Massachusetts Music Educators Association’s Junior Music Festival. The March 16 festival, which is for students in grades 8 and 9 in the MMEA’s western district, will take place at Minnechaug Regional High School in Wilbraham.

Goleneva and Le auditioned in December to earn a spot in the festival. Goleneva, who plays the flute, will perform in the concert band, while Le will be in the jazz band playing the saxophone.

Khuong Le and Enessa Goleneva, both Agawam ninth graders, will perform at the Massachusetts Music Educators Association’s Junior Music Festival on March 16. (Reminder Publishing photo by Mike Lydick)

Both learned to play a specific piece of music for their audition. Both practiced every day to become proficient in learning their musical piece. Still, Goleneva and Le said they were anxious at their auditions.

“I was very nervous. This was my first audition to join a pretty big music event,” said Goleneva. “I heard all these other musicians playing really well. I was worried I might not do well, considering I was competing against great musicians.”

Goleneva, who learned “Scherzando No. 17,” said all students who auditioned had to learn an entire musical piece and be prepared to play any section at the audition.

“That added more pressure — you can be stronger in one section and weaker in another. But I felt by making a commitment to practice the music regularly I would be all right,” Goleneva said.

Her practice paid off, and Goleneva is thrilled she’s in the festival.

“I’m really passionate about music. I’ve thought about playing in the junior festival since I was in eighth grade,” she said. “This is a pretty big event. I got a good score, so I’m pretty proud of what I accomplished.”

Goleneva said last year, before her family moved to Agawam, she attended Westfield Middle School, playing the flute in the school band.

“I had a great music teacher who said that I played the flute really well. He said I would be a great candidate for the district festival. That led me to audition for it when I came to Agawam,” she said.

She’s looking forward to playing in the concert band: “It’s a very powerful band that sounds great because of the experienced musicians who play in it.”

This will be Le’s second year playing in the festival. Although he knew what to expect, he still felt nervous.

“It was nerve-racking for me. I kept thinking about all the other good kids I would be up against who might be better than me,” Le said.

He practiced his piece, “Basie’s Blues,” every day and listened to the tracking of it to get a good idea of its rhythm as well as the notes. That way he would know how it’s supposed to sound. At the audition, he mentally prepared himself by fingering his saxophone keys to practice hitting the right notes.

“There were a lot of kids competing — it was just crazy. Even though it was my second time auditioning, it still felt like my first time — it was like preparing for an exam. But, as I began observing the other kids, I noticed some of them weren’t that great. Their rhythm was a bit off and so were some of their notes. They weren’t playing the piece perfectly.”

He believes the key to his selection to play in the jazz band was his preparation.

“I practiced a lot of hours and I spent a lot [of] time listening to the music. My preparation paid off,” he said.

Le said it’s “a great opportunity” to again be part of the festival.

“There are a lot of emotions going through my mind,” Le said. “It’s an honor to actually get to play in their band. It’s wonderful and I feel really good about it.”

He chose to audition for the jazz band rather than the other two options, orchestra and concert band.

“The others are all great, but I prefer jazz because it’s very soothing and relaxing,” said Le, who has played the sax since he was in seventh grade. “Everyone in my family likes music, especially jazz and blues. My love of jazz came from them. Teenagers are supposed to like popular music, but everyone in my family says I have an old soul, because I like older music. I just love it. I love popular music, too, but what got me into jazz was listening to other jazz players.”

Both musicians plan to continue with their music in college. Le is thinking about the University of California, Berkeley, and Goleneva is considering the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

After graduating from AHS, Le said he “would definitely” like to enroll in UC Berkeley’s music program.

“I could just keep playing and do what I love the most,” he said. “I’m actually seeing myself as a great musician — playing the saxophone and pursuing my dreams.”

Goleneva wants to attend UMass because it has “a wonderful band” and, based on her research, is “a very good college” for majoring in nursing.

“I’d like to continue my passion with music in college and also continue it afterwards as a hobby — maybe even play some gigs,” she said.

Le is looking forward to auditioning next year for the MMEA Western District Senior Festival, which is for students in grades 10 through 12. Goleneva, however, is still undecided.

“I want to improve because it’s a senior festival — you need to be very experienced and good. So, I’m going see if I can become a better musician,” she said.

In January, several AHS musicians performed at the senior festival: Sam Beckwith, Abby Drumm, Will Gamble, Jace LeBlanc, Nick Nguyen and Amy Vu.