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School for the Blind band plays cave
Cumberland Caverns drums 21
James Clark photo Candi Herrera, a student at Tennessee School for the Blind, plays drums during a performance Monday night at Cumberland Caverns.

Students at Tennessee School for the Blind received a memorable experience this week when they performed in the acoustically rich confines of the Volcano Room at Cumberland Caverns.

Twelve students with the choir and six students with the jazz band played for an audience that included members of the Warren County Lions Club, an organization devoted to eyesight preservation.

“I can distinguish the cave formations, although I can’t see exact details,” said Candi Herrera, a visually impaired student from Oak Ridge.
Herrera has been playing drums since October and has been a student at Tennessee School for the Blind in Nashville for two years. She had eye replacement surgery as a child, a procedure which provides limited sight.

“I can’t read fine print so I was struggling in public schools,” said Candi. “I could do all the assignments, it would just take me a whole lot longer and some of my teachers didn’t understand.”

A junior, Herrera says she is set to graduate next year and is pondering possible career choices.

For students with no eyesight, they were still able to experience the cave with its vast temperature difference and damp air at 99 percent humidity. While the temperature outside was in the mid-80s, the temperature inside the cave is a constant 56 degrees.

“It’s an awesome experience being down here,” said keyboardist Anthony Bonetti, who has been playing since July 2014.

Members of the Warren County Lions Club were in attendance. Representative Susie Davenport said Tennessee School for the Blind is one of the many organizations the local club supports. The Lions Club also provides support for leader dogs used by the blind.

Davenport said it costs more than $20,000 and sometimes more than a year of training to get the dogs ready to serve. Then the dogs have to be matched to the person to see if their personalities mesh. Sometimes the two aren’t compatible.

Davenport had a chance to visit the large Leader Dogs for the Blind facility in Rochester Hills, Mich., and said it left a lasting impression.
“They blindfold you and let you walk around with a dog,” said Davenport. “It’s terrifying because you’re dependent on that dog.”

She said one trait leader dogs must learn is called intelligent disobedience. This is when the dogs intentionally ignore the commands of their owner because they can see danger ahead.

She told the story of a dog that stopped and refused to go forward on a sidewalk despite its owner telling it to proceed. The dog refused to budge because there was a ledge the person would have fallen down.