Lt. Curtis Burns
By Jenny Berry
Some may recognize Lt. Curtis Burns as one of the police officers who help keep the OSU campus safe. Others may know him as the OK State Piper, as he’s billed on his Facebook page.
Burns started playing the bagpipes 13 years ago, teaching himself to play using a book and the internet. “Thank goodness for YouTube because I can sit and listen!” he said. “It’s a lot of watching and studying and practicing.”
While Burns plays at weddings, funerals and other off-campus events, he says his favorites are those affiliated with the university, especially freshman convocation and graduation.
“I bring them on campus and then four or five years later, I get to pipe them off campus as they graduate,” he said. “It is just so much fun and such an honor for me that I get to do both.”
Burns has a natural talent for music and also plays the saxophone, Scottish small pipes, Irish whistle and the Australian didgeridoo. He studied music education at OSU and is a lifetime member of Kappa Kappa Psi, the national honorary band fraternity. He is a member of the Stillwater Community Band and Stillwater Jazz Band.
Service in His Blood
A public servant in many ways, Burns worked in emergency medical services before becoming a police officer. “There was an EMT course available on campus, so I took it,” Burns said. “After I graduated from OSU, I went back to Anadarko and did EMS work for almost two years.”
When he decided to transition to Oklahoma law enforcement, Burns first worked as an officer in El Reno, then moved to Mountain View and Thomas as the police chief. He continued his EMS work in each of these towns, stopping only when he became the Perkins police chief.
Loyal and True
Burns returned to OSU 15 years ago after retiring in Perkins. He served at OSU while he looked for another chief’s job — but after nine months, he decided to stay. “At the end of that I was like, ‘I enjoy working here, I don’t want to go back to being a police chief,’” he says. “I just wanted to be a police officer. This was the perfect place.”
Burns first heard the bagpipes in eighth grade. “A man who played the bagpipes came to my school,” he said. “He was dressed in the full Scottish military piping uniform, and he gave us a concert and told us about the pipes. I remember I went home and I told my mother that one of these days I was going to learn the bagpipes.”
He loves the bagpipes for their ability to set the mood of any situation. “You can play happy tunes, or you can play the marches,” he said. “I really love the classical music called pibroch. There are seven different types of music that can be expressed, from laments to celebrations. I think it releases emotions.”
Burns is involved in a community policing initiative, patrolling the central part of campus, an area unreachable by car. The police patrol on foot, bicycle or Segway instead.
“Our job is getting out and meeting people, whether it’s students, faculty or staff and developing partnerships within those entities. We become the face of the police department. We’re the officers now that people don’t mind coming and talking to because they see us every day, and they’ve heard us say hello or good morning.”