Students help make history for composers festival

One of the strengths of the Pacific Symphony’s annual American Composers Festival has been its inclusion of a wide range of arts groups and voices. This year, in exploring the themes of “The Greatest Generation,” the challenges and hardships faced during the turbulent 1930s and ‘40s will be seen through the eyes of the newest generation.

The symphony has partnered with the Orange County High School of the Arts, tapping students from the film and TV conservatory to produce documentary shorts that bring the experiences of this older generation to a younger audience. Videos from three students (check them out on will be shown during two of the three concerts that make up the festival:

Kaylen Hadley

A senior from Corona, Hadley selected as her subject Helen Miller, her longtime violin teacher. The 92-year-old Miller’s experiences through the Depression and World War II led to personal consciousness-raising that Hadley captures -- the Rosie the Riveter opportunity for women to enter the workforce for the first time is something Miller values as a society-changing experience. “And she never felt deprived by what she went through,” said Hadley.

Adrian Azevedo

A junior from Santa Ana, Azevedo focused on his grandfather Daniel Pena and his World War II experiences in crafting “Soldier of Life.” The experience of listening to Pena, who survived D-Day and whose son served in Vietnam, became more than personal history for Azevedo when he sifted through the lengthy interview and grappled with something that all documentary makers inevitably face: “How do I tell history?”

Lauren Morales

A junior from Whittier, Morales used familial ties to harvest the experiences of three people who live in Laguna Woods’ Leisure World. The challenge that she met, using a collage of photos from her subjects over the years as well as popular music from the period came in creating a coherent structure from the privation and endurance experienced in three dissimilar lives. Morales ruefully summarized the challenge: “Editing is the beast!”

This determination, effort and the quality of the results seem representative of what goes on at the high school. The school has 1,400 students from 92 Southern California cities, grades 7 through 12, supplementing their academic course work with 11 programs in music, dance, theater, film and TV.

The intimate campus in downtown Santa Ana is a beehive; at lunchtime the hallways buzz with the after burn of aesthetic ambition -- imagine the cast of “Glee” expanding to take over an entire school. The “Glee” comparison has real-life roots: one of the Golden Globe award-winning show’s breakout stars, Matthew Morrison, who plays the indefatigable glee club instructor Mr. Schuester, a.k.a, “Mr. Shu,” spent his formative years in the late ‘90s at the Orange County school.

The school’s regional pull is reflected by Hadley, who stitches car, train, bus and a walk into a twice-a-day 90-minute commute. The 17-year-old used the train time to edit her video on her Mac.

Hadley’s videos from the last couple of years have been shown at the Newport Film Festival and other regional festivals. This year she finished a 6 1/2 -minute noir tale, complete with missing money, a menacing boss, and a private detective who has to choose between a job and the discovery of his missing daughter, rendered in prototypical black and white. “The Unexpected Job” can be found on YouTube by searching that title.

As for her new piece, debuting Monday night, Hadley said her violin teacher’s reminiscences led to a life lesson for current times: “What came through as I edited her comments was that back then it was more like a community facing these challenges, not just individuals, but everyone pulling together against hard times. We can learn now from how they came through it as a generation.”