Former West Orange High a cappella group wins awards

The 2018-19 members of West Orange High a cappella group Noise Complaint racked up some awards for their 2020 album, ‘Vibe.’

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  • | 2:26 p.m. June 2, 2021
Courtesy Nathan Armstrong
Courtesy Nathan Armstrong
  • West Orange Times & Observer
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Two years ago, West Orange High’s student a cappella group was in the throes of trying to raise $16,000 to record its first full-length album.

Not only did its 12 members accomplish their goal and release their album — titled “Vibe” — last year, but also, they won multiple awards because of it.

The group, Noise Complaint, was formed in 2015 under the direction of Daryl Yasay, former associate choral director at West Orange High. Along with recording the album, it also went on to win competitions across the country. 

The hard work continues to pay off, too. On Sunday, May 2, the group’s 2018-19 members were recognized for their work at the annual Contemporary A Cappella Recording Awards. The CARAs are hosted by the Contemporary A Cappella Society and recognize the best of recorded a cappella music. Since 1992, hundreds of albums annually are considered for the awards.

As alumna Darby Lestin will tell you, putting “Vibe” together was never about winning awards — but, of course, it’s always nice to be recognized.

“It was so amazing to think we were going to do something this big,” Lestin said. “It really takes a lot of time and effort for a high school group to be able to get an album put together, produced and arranged. The fact that we were able to do this really meant a lot to us.”



Lestin and fellow Noise Complaint alumna Eliza Simikian had just graduated from West Orange High the summer the group recorded “Vibe.” It was the pinnacle of their experience, but being part of the group taught them lessons and produced memories they carry along with them today.

Simikian is a public relations student at Murray State University in Kentucky, but she has remained involved in music — largely because of her time in Noise Complaint.

“It was just the feeling of being wanted, having your second family and all having the same mission, which was to spread love and passion and purpose through music,” Simikian said of being part of the group. “That has carried on to other life lessons that I’ve had to deal with these past two years — even if it has nothing to do with music. It has just changed my life forever.”

Lestin has been studying choral music education at Florida State University for the past two years but will transfer this fall to the prestigious Berklee College of Music, where she will pursue a degree in contemporary writing and production. Lestin also credits Noise Complaint with being the inspiration behind her career trajectory. 

“Being in Noise Complaint was where I first got the opportunity to start arranging, and the group became kind of like this big family,” Lestin said. “We were really a collaborative group that not only collaborated and looked out for each other in music, but also just looked out for each other as people and really focused on character building first and being good people first. I feel like that’s stuck with me throughout my college experience.”

There were many lessons — both in music and in life — learned throughout their time with the group, but recording “Vibe” really gave all the members of Noise Complaint a hands-on experience in putting together an album.

“It was one of the most fun times I’ve ever had in my life,” Simikian said. “The two weeks leading up to it, we rehearsed a lot, and that was exhausting. By the time we got to the album process and recording and stuff, it was so fun and it was so worth it. A lot of us graduated that year, so it was a good last thing for all of us to do together and to remember the music we made and the passion we shared for the group and music.”


“Vibe” was recorded in 2019, produced by Jacob Tourjeman, and released in 2020.
“Vibe” was recorded in 2019, produced by Jacob Tourjeman, and released in 2020.

“Vibe” was recorded in the school’s piano room, where producer Jacob Tourjeman worked with the students for the week. Some songs were arranged by Yasay, while others were arranged by students in the group.

At the CARA awards, “Vibe” was named best overall scholastic debut album, and Lestin won an award for best high school arrangement. “Vibe” also was runner-up for best overall electronic/experimental song, and it was a nominee for best overall pop album, best high school album and best high school song.

“This could not have been possible without the support of so many amazing parents, teachers, staff, administrators and members of the Winter Garden community,” Yasay said. “We extend our utmost gratitude to those who have helped us turn this dream into a reality.”

Lestin said she was shocked when she learned she had won an award for her arrangement, especially because she only had been arranging music for one-and-one-half years at that point.

“I could not believe it — I was so ecstatic, and I was really honored at the fact that the CARAs committee thought that highly of that arrangement at all,” Lestin said. “Hearing that we won … was so heartwarming. In all honesty, for us, it’s never really been about the awards. It was just fun to be able to submit something for once, but it kind of just was a nice cherry on top — a constant reminder of the times that we had together.”

Those who worked on the album — Zander Adkins, Addam Ben-Abdallah, Julian Carpio, Robert Fernandez, Mekelya Griffin, Lestin, Stephanie Mustonen, Stacey Saint-Hilaire, Simikian, Jasmin Taylor, Abigail Urton and Neoptolemus Zhang — all have since graduated and are scattered across the country now, but they still remain in touch.

“We were having fun, we enjoyed what we were doing, and we just happened to be nominated for some of these amazing awards with other amazing groups,” Simikian said. “Every time we won an award, we were texting each other in our group chat and freaking out.”

“I just feel really lucky to have had an experience like this at all,” Lestin said. “Not every ordinary teen doing music gets the opportunity to create an album with their best friends and then later win an award for it. I feel like this is such a blessing, and it was the perfect people, perfect moment, perfect song. I’m just really happy about it.”


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