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Reflecting on a Decade of Service: An Interview with The United States Air Force Band’s Solo Piper, Master Sgt. Adam Tianello

Master Sgt. Tianello performs as part of an immersion event for the 11th Wing. 
(U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Valentin Lukashuk)

Master Sgt. Tianello performs as part of an immersion event for the 11th Wing. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Valentin Lukashuk)

Master Sgt. Tianello performs at the North Texas Irish Festival in March 2020. 
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jared Duhon)

Master Sgt. Tianello performs at the North Texas Irish Festival in March 2020. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jared Duhon)

Master Sgt. Adam Tianello performs missions in Arlington National Cemetery no matter the weather conditions. 
(U.S. Air Force Photo by Technical Sgt. Joshua Freely)

Master Sgt. Adam Tianello performs missions in Arlington National Cemetery no matter the weather conditions. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Technical Sgt. Joshua Freely)

JOINT BASE ANACOSTIA-BOLLING, D.C. --

Though commonly associated with Celtic heritage, the bagpipe has a rich history in the U.S. military and the U.S. Air Force. Military pipe bands in the United States date back to immediately after World War II when military personnel were inspired by the pipes and drums of the British Commonwealth Forces. The U.S. Air Force Pipe Band was formed in 1950 but disbanded in 1970. Today, Master Sgt. Adam Tianello carries forth the legacy of American military pipe bands as the sole bagpiper in the U.S. Air Force. Sgt. Tianello recently passed the ten-year mark in his Air Force career. The following interview reveals more about his start as a bagpiper, his early career, and how his role as an Air Force piper has evolved over the past decade.  

Q: How have military pipe bands evolved since The U.S. Air Force Pipe Band was disbanded in 1970? Have they changed since you joined the Air Force ten years ago? 

Sgt. Tianello: There are many changes that occurred with the pipe bands within this time. The members of the original U.S. Air Force Pipe Band created a civilian pipe band called the Denny and Dunipace Pipe Band that converted into the City of Washington Pipe Band. The bagpipe also went through a number of major upgrades in technology during these years such as plastic reeds and bags.

Q: From a historical perspective, how has the role of pipe bands and bagpipers changed since 1950?

Sgt. Tianello: They serve the same purpose today! Pipe bands are inspirational and strive to maximize unit cohesion, both visually and audibly.  

Q: When did you begin playing the bagpipes? What was your musical education and musical upbringing like?

Sgt. Tianello: My musical background was originally in singing and percussion. At age 14, I started piping lessons on the weekends in Rochester, New York. Initially, I wanted to win a scholarship to college. Then, I heard a rock band that had bagpipes in it, and I was hooked! The sound was really captivating. It sounded and mixed like a synthesizer, but it had much more guts and grit to the sound, in a traditional way. I have strived to bring the instrument into focus for  my generation from that day forward.

Q: Growing up, did you want to play bagpipes professionally? Were you aware that you could join the military as a bagpiper? 

Sgt. Tianello: I began learning pipes in a community band called Feadan Or, or chanter of gold in Gaelic. We were a competition band (grade four) working to get better at the craft as a group! I eventually wanted to learn more tunes and play more parades, so I joined the Rochester Scottish Pipe Band. Three years later, I began teaching a police band called Gates Keystone Club Pipes and Drums. As I went off to college, I landed in Dunedin, Florida where I played with the grade three Dunedin Pipe Band. This is when my piping progressed to the next level! I had heard many stories over the years of the Air Force Pipe Band in the 1950s and 1960s. They were hands down the best pipe band of those years. A number of my initial serious teachers came as a result of that band: Donald Lyndsay, Bill Logan and Sandy Jones.

Q: Can you explain what the grade scale means in the world of piping?

Sgt. Tianello: I now play in the grade two MacMillan Pipe Band as a civilian. In short, the lower the grade, the better the band. Pipers and pipe bands play in competitions where they must place in the top of the field to be considered for an upgrade.

Q: What led to your decision to enlist in the United States Air Force?

Sgt. Tianello: After the events of September 11, I reached out to each branch of service and asked how I could help support them as a bagpiper. When talking with them, I was told I could bring the bagpipe along to most of the missions that they would give me. However, the Air Force was the only branch to have a bagpipe band in their service. 

Q: You began your career at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia in 2010. Can you describe the career shift that brought you to your current position in The U.S. Air Force Band? 

Sgt. Tianello: The U.S. Air Force Reserve Command Band was in the process of being deactivated in 2013. As plans solidified for all members to complete permanent changes of station, I was moved to The U. S. Air Force Band here in Washington, D.C. We were all given an opportunity to give our base of preference for our impending permanent change of station. I chose to put Washington, D.C. as it made the most sense given the instrument’s heritage and history. That sentiment resonated with the Air Force Bands Career Field Manager, and I was accepted into the “flock” of the 11th Wing at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, D.C. 

Q: How has your mission or role in the Air Force changed since you enlisted? 

Sgt. Tianello: I was originally hired to be a Pipe Major (leader) of the Pipe Band at the Air Force Reserve Command Band. I am now the Resource Advisor and Solo Piper at The U.S. Air Force Band. The pressure to perform to the highest standard is still rudimentary and fundamental to the core of my playing. I pride myself on my ability to bring that standard to every performance.

Q: As the only bagpiper in The U.S. Air Force Band, what missions do you perform? 

Sgt. Tianello: I perform at Arlington National Cemetery, the White House, and at change of command, promotion, and retirement ceremonies. 

Q: What is your fondest or most impactful memory of your career in the Air Force? 

Sgt. Tianello: My fondest memory of my career was a trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico in 2012 where I played an Independence Day concert with the Puerto Rico Orchestra. It blended Scottish culture with Latin music. One of the tunes was an arrangement of “Il Paco Grande.” They took the arrangement to the next level with additional auxiliary percussion. There was a blend of U.S. Air Force and civilian musicians on the stage for a Fourth of July celebration, which was broadcast live across the island. 

Q: What do you enjoy doing outside of work? 

Sgt. Tianello: I have a two-year-old son, Paxton, who I adore spending time with. Woodworking is a great stress reliever as well!

Q: When you are not performing in The U.S. Air Force Band, where do you like to practice? 

Sgt. Tianello: I like to practice in parks, away from the crowds. It is definitely my happy place where I can go and practice, judgment-free. 

Q: Where do you see yourself in another 10 years? 

Sgt. Tianello: Big question! I really have no idea, but I’m excited to have had this opportunity to serve the United States Air Force already. It’s not only something that has already helped me bring the instrument back to our current generation, but has also allowed me to directly contribute to grieving families and celebratory occasions. I’m honored and grateful to be in a position that has given me both job and personal satisfaction in my life. I’m excited for these next 10 years and my future contributions to The United States Air Force Band.