The musical instrument in question is the Great Stalacpipe Organ, which spans 3.5 acres of the cave, making it the world’s largest instrument. Its name is derived from a combination of the words stalactite and pipe organ. However, it is a percussion instrument.
The Stalacpipe can be found in Luray Caverns, a National Natural Landmark in Northern Virginia. Luray Caverns are the most extensive cave system in the eastern U.S. However, what attracts most of their visitors is their sound. After all, they are home to the largest musical instrument in the world.
Tunnels that wind throughout the Caverns lead visitors into a chamber called The Cathedral. The heart of The Great Stalacpipe Organ is the one that Leland Sprinkle designed in 1956.
Larry Moyer has worked at the Caverns for over four decades. He said Sprinkle got the idea to make an organ in the Caverns when he realized you could make music with the stalactites.
Moyer, now the lead engineer of the Caverns, said: “Leland Sprinkle came through the caverns with his son on his fifth birthday. They would take a little rubber mallet and play a song on the stalactites. And he got the idea of building an organ.”
Pressing each key on the organ triggers a small electric hammer that strikes stalactites of various sizes, causing them to vibrate and give off a musical note. The mallets, softly tapped against stone, create what many have described as charming, ethereal melodies that linger, reverberating in the air.
Moyer said: “There’s miles and miles of cabling down here. The electronics we build ourselves. There’s no, uh, great stalactite pipe organ store, so we can’t go buy parts for it.”
Such a large and complex musical instrument requires regular upkeep. Moyer is responsible for ensuring all the electronics and miles of cables stay functional in the damp environment.
Moyer, who started working at the Caverns as a teenager, has dedicated most of his life to tending the Great Stalacpipe Organ for the enjoyment of tourists.
He loves his work, but he also knows that someday, it will be time to pass on the responsibilities. Fortunately, he now has two younger apprentices, Stephanie Beahm and Ben Caton, who are learning what they can from him so that future generations can experience the ethereal sounds of the Great Stalacpipe Organ.
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