The Introspective Bagpiper

The only bagpiper in the U.S. Air Force, Technical Sgt. Adam Tianello,
performs on a Celtic Aire tour concert at the Aronoff Center's Jarson-Kaplan
Theater in Cincinnati, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force photo by Technical Sgt. Mandi

The only bagpiper in the U.S. Air Force, Technical Sgt. Adam Tianello, performs on a Celtic Aire tour concert at the Aronoff Center's Jarson-Kaplan Theater in Cincinnati, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force photo by Technical Sgt. Mandi Harper/released)

Washington, D.C. -- Nearly one year ago, The United States Air Force Band welcomed its first bagpiper in over four decades. Technical Sgt. Adam Tianello signed in June 10, 2013 after performing with the U.S. Air Force Reserve Pipe Band and Concert Band in Warner Robbins, Ga. for nearly three years.

A native of Rochester, N.Y., Tianello graduated from Spencerport High School in 2001. He then continued his musical studies at the State University of New York at Geneseo, where he earned a Bachelor's of Arts in music along with minors in business and political science. He then graduated from Argosy University in Tampa, Fla. with a master's in Business Administration. Prior to enlisting in the Air Force, Tianello performed in the Feadan Or Pipe Band. He is a grade 3 piper and has performed numerous solos around the world.

I had a chance to speak with Adam recently, and asked him to reflect upon his first year in the band, and other aspects of playing such a unique instrument within the organization.

McCray: Can you explain the circumstances of how you arrived here, nearly a year ago?

Tianello: It was a bittersweet ending to the three years I spent stationed at Robins Air Force Base. It was time to move on to, what I was hoping would be, a place full of opportunity for myself professionally and personally. When I arrived here I was merely happy to have a home outside of the cramped hotels we were staying at throughout my transition. I settled in Alexandria and instantly began enjoying the surrounding areas that enamored me with their historical significance.

McCray: You came from a unit that had a full bagpipe ensemble, now you are the only one of your type in the building. What is that like?

Tianello: The Pipe Band at Robbins was a very distinctive unit. Not only did it stand out with the sights and sounds of the pipes and drums, but its members hold a variety of Air Force Specialty Codes and represent both officer and enlisted ranks. It was a team that worked so incredibly well together with the goal of making the best music possible. Our ties through a love for piping stretch well across geographical boundaries. Now, I am the lone wolf of the group, assigned to carry on the legacy that has been passed down to me. The position may sound a bit intimidating at times, but it is awe inspiring.

Celtic Aire is a group comprised of musicians from the Singing Sergeants that have caught the Celtic music bug! I have recently relished the opportunities to accompany them on a couple of their concerts and am delighted to see the tremendous lasting impact they have left on all of their audiences. I am looking forward to becoming a more active member in Celtic Aire and will hopefully be a part of their future recordings!

McCray: What kind of surprises did you face when you first got here?

Tianello: Surprises were everywhere when I first arrived at this duty station. The surprises came in many different ways, such as helping to develop new protocol for the bagpipes during Air Force funerals, to establishing uniform standards. However, the best surprise I encountered was the open arms of my fellow Airmen musicians and their excited willingness to help the bagpipe flourish in the unit.

McCray: What do you mean by uniform standards, do you mean wearing a kilt with the uniform?

Tianello: Performance uniform standards for the kilted combinations are commander-approved through permission by the Air Force District of Washington. I have helped a team of band members to develop standards of dress and appearance to be applied to the combinations.

McCray: Now that you've been here for over a year, reflect upon your experience now and contrast it with what you thought when you first arrived.

Tianello: These days my life is filled with taking in all that the Washington, D.C., area has to offer including: museums, concerts, running trails with views of the beautiful Potomac River, nature walks through a multitude of impressive forests and wetlands that are brimming with wildlife activity. My duty days are filled with work related to being a Government Purchase Card holder, after getting my MBA it is a position that I naturally gravitated towards. I am able to blend my passion for piping with my drive for accounting--two worlds I never thought would gracefully combine.

One amazing opportunity that arose from being stationed in the National Capitol region was the chance to meet the president of the United States and bear witness to the Soldier Ride at the White House. The event honored our wounded warriors as they used the bonds of service to overcome physical, mental and emotional wounds. Events like this truly motivate me to be the best Airman I can day in and day out.

McCray: What is it like to be the military's only active duty bagpiper here in the Washington, D.C., area?

Tianello: It is an extremely unique position that I used to only dream would become a reality! Dreams really do come true with the right amount of patience, perseverance and guidance. When I began playing the bagpipe at the age of 14, I was exposed to the history of the U.S. Air Force Pipe Band at Bolling Air Force Base. It was arguably the best pipe band in the U.S. throughout the 1950s and '60s. I idolized and sought guidance from the Band's former members, such as Donald Lyndsey and Sandy Jones. It wasn't until I got the position that I let them know the Pipe Band was getting a spark in the ranks of the Air Force Bands again. It was at that moment that I realized my position was as big of a deal to them as it was for me. Every performance I execute in uniform is a direct reflection of all of their hard work years ago.

Before joining the Air Force I had pursued a career in investment banking. I would go to work and notice myself becoming more complacent and unmotivated to proceed in the field. Once the Air Force posed the bagpipe position to me I was overjoyed to accept! This position is one that holds great pride and great responsibility. The funeral mission at Arlington National Cemetery is of great importance to me. It is an honor to perform for all that have given the ultimate sacrifice, and it is my hope that the music helps to heal and inspire the loved ones they left behind.

McCray: We also have an accordion player in the A.F. Strings, Master Sgt. Frank Busso. That's a bit of an interesting instrument for a military band. Have you had a chance to speak with him about your collective 'uniqueness' within the building?

Tianello: Frank and I have had our share chats about our unique positions. We both enjoy the opportunity to represent an instrument and culture that we both care deeply about.

McCray: What is the most unique Air Force performance you've been a part of since being in The U.S. Air Force Band?

Tianello: Since arriving here, I have had the profound honor of performing for numerous ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery. However, not all of the ceremonies have been funerals. In September 2013, I had the opportunity to join previous members of the original Air Force Pipe Band in a memorial and remembrance of the funeral for John Fitzgerald Kennedy. The USAFPB was an integral part of that momentous day and to stand amongst them was like playing baseball with the likes of Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron.

McCray: People must be surprised to see a bagpiper in an Air Force uniform, what do they say to you, and what do you tell them?

Tianello: I love, and eagerly await, the opportunity to explain what I do for the Air Force. The instrument and uniform carry scores of accolades throughout their years in the Air Force. I am often overwhelmed with information to tell people in such a short amount of time. Most often I will just explain what it is I am doing that day that they see me. To those that see me often around the squadron, it is more of a shock to see me wearing something else.

Tianello is indeed a tremendous Airman musician, and we greatly value his musicianship and camaraderie within our organization. Check our website for concert and tour information, and you may just find this introspective bagpiper in your neighborhood in the near future.