Meet Georgia Milhem and Mikaila Vaughn: two nationally recognized, energetic Oklahoma State University tuba performers changing the world one note at a time.
Milhem and Vaughn are the only Division I female tuba players in Oklahoma. Since that’s the case, these young women use their gift to inspire the next wave of female excellence and have already received national attention.
“Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do something because you’re a girl,” Vaughn said.
Playing this monster of an instrument isn’t cut out for everyone. With the average tuba weighing 30 pounds and a sousaphone, or a marching tuba, at 25 pounds, only the fiercely determined can handle this instrument. Milhem says the key ingredient is air.
Both women note that many people look past the tuba to more popular instruments, but for Milhem and Vaughn they couldn't imagine it any other way. The tuba fits them and showcases who they are, Milhem and Vaughn said.
Vaughn especially loves the tuba’s large build and sound and the energy it brings to the table. Everyone knows the distinct sound of a tuba, whether you’re in the stands or playing in the band.
But how did they end up playing the tuba? From a young age, both women knew the tuba was their calling. Ignoring any backlash or negative thoughts from themselves or others, they decided the tuba is their ride-or-die instrument.
Milhem remembers her sixth-grade band tryouts. For her, playing the tuba was meant to be.
“I was there for two hours trying out instruments,” Milhem said. “I got low scores on everything, but when I played the tuba, everyone got silent. They said, ‘We need to set you up for the tuba. That was the best we’ve heard.’”
Vaughn had a similar experience with the tuba calling to her.
“My dad was the band instructor at the time, and we already bought a saxophone,” Vaughn said. “but when I tried out the tuba, we sold it that day.”
Practicing two hours every Monday, Wednesday and Friday before game days, Milhem and Vaughn’s bandmates also take notice. Having a big presence among the band, they’ve earned respect from everyone.
“Yeah, they’re living proof that gender stereotypes in the band don’t matter,” Associate Director of Bands, Douglas S. Henderson said. “These girls work hard and we love having them.”
Former trombone player Bryan Pizana said, “ I’ll always remember them when we practiced. I remembered hearing them play behind us. They were super friendly and tried to talk with everyone”
Playing with the band, these girls have gathered quite a bit of entertaining stories and long term memories. Both mentioned how they enjoyed playing in different football stadiums, getting to see different designs than just the Boone Pickens Stadium.
One of their favorite memories, the pre-game march to Boone Pickens on game days, is missed by both.
“I remember we’ll play right behind the football players, and people on the sidewalks would be cheering us on, hyping us up,” Vaughn said.
“I would try and take a picture with Pistol Pete every home game,” Milhem added.
Unfortunately, Covid-19 interfered with these good times, but it hasn’t gotten them down.
“In these times it’s the people that’s the best thing about the band,” Milhem said.
With the new COVID guidelines the band has now been split into different sections based on their instruments for practices. Now only a partial amount of band members can play at games. Yet they remain optimistic during these times and they try to focus on their goals.
“Remind yourself why you’re here,” Milhem said.
Milhem and Vaughn have some advice to others who are looking for their calling.
“Try everything until you find something you love,” Vaughn said. “It doesn’t hurt to try.”
Milhem’s message is a familiar saying to most: go big or go home. Both said they want to encourage everyone and support them to follow their dreams.
As they continue to pursue their own dreams, Milhem wants to work on the marketing board for Target and Vaughn has goals to be a famous DJ, they only had one more thing to say: “TUBA GIRLS RULE THE WORLD.”