Proving passion: Visually impaired student marches in LMB

Tanner Blakely, junior computer science major from Forney, plays saxophone for the Lumberjack Marching Band. He is diagnosed to retinis pigmentosa, or RP. Blakely has been part of the LMB for two years now.


He wakes up, eager to start his day. During the week, he gets ready to go to class, all of which go by slowly due to the increasing anticipation for an event later in the day. Finally, classes are over. He grabs a quick lunch, his saxophone and his cane, ready to go to practice.

SFA Junior Tanner Blakely is a computer science major from Forney, Texas. He has played saxophone in the LMB for the past two years, even after he was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a condition that restricts vision to only vague shapes and inverted colors, potentially causing blindness.

However, his love for band and music surpasses this hardship as he has learned to accomodate for it.

“Apparently, I’ve always had vision problems since I was young,” Blakely said. “But my parents wanted me to be tested to make sure. So, before middle school, they had me tested and gave me a bunch of eye tests and everything and that’s around when I was diagnosed.”

Even at the very start of his diagnosis, he never let his love of music be affected in any way and began resolving the problems associated with RP on his own.

“It started getting a little tricky to read sheet music,” Blakely said. “So, I just started out playing by ear.”

He got to implement his personal accomodations in middle school when he first became a member of the school band. His passion has grown from there for the past nine years.

“I’ve just always been in band,” Blakely said. “I started in middle school. Now, it’s just something I’ve always done.”

While the core of his love for music started in middle school band, he also has a general love for music that is evident in his demeanor and throughout his life.

“All through my childhood, I’ve loved music,” Blakely said. “I’ve gone to concerts a lot. My childhood is all basically just rock concerts.”

While Blakely began to grow, his passion did as well. He came to SFA last year, joined the LMB and began to cultivate his art.

“Really, I never got to march in high school,” Blakely said. “So, this is only my fourth year actually marching. I like that part. I think the marching part has helped me with a lot over the past couple of years.”

Along with Tanner’s overall enjoyment of band, Lumberjack Band Director Dr. Tamey Anglley has a fondness for the work Blakely does in the marching band as well.

“Literally, he just does his job,” Anglley said. “And when you’re in a sea of about 330 marching band members, I think it’s awesome that I would never even know that he was visually impaired. That’s really impressive.”

Conjoining Blakely’s resilience and independence, the band department has made accommodations for his condition. They offer him several ways to make his experience as involved and enjoyable as possible.

“The biggest accommodation we make for him is we invert his music essentially,” Anglley said. “So, instead of white paper and black ink, we do black paper and white ink. Another thing we make accommodations for is we assign a student to lead him because he can’t take his cane on the marching field. There’s always someone there to lead him.”

All of these considerations, along with his own positive and upbeat attitude, has led Blakely to make progress in band and become an inspiration to many.

“He has absolutely inspired me,” Sophomore Josh Pearson, saxophone section leader, said. “I don’t know many people who can do what he does. If I was in his situation, I don’t think I could do it. I don’t think I’d be willing to try. Seeing him, someone who is visually impaired, to be able to do this and to do it well. That’s very inspiring.”

Together with Pearson’s inspiration from Blakely, Anglley also believes Tanner further proves the fact that “anyone can be a musician.”

“What he’s doing is phenomenal,” Pearson said. “I want to be a band director. I’ll probably use Tanner as an example all the time. If kids are ever like, ‘I don’t think I can do it. I don’t think I can handle this,’ I can say I marched with someone who almost couldn’t see anything, and he did a phenomenal job. I think he’s very inspirational to anyone for anything. To be able to overcome that obstacle and do it so well is very inspiring.”

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