Luray Caverns
Interesting Instruments

Music Underground: A Virginia Cave is Home to the World’s Largest Musical Instrument

Hidden beneath the rolling mountains of Northern Virginia lies a subterranean marvel – Luray Caverns, home to the world’s largest musical instrument. As the caverns mark their 50th anniversary as a National Natural Landmark, the spotlight turns to The Great Stalacpipe Organ, an extraordinary creation nestled within the heart of The Cathedral.

Crafted by Leland Sprinkle in 1956, the organ spans an astounding 3.5 acres of the cave, earning its title as the largest musical instrument in the world. Despite being called a pipe organ, it is actually a percussion instrument, utilizing the cave’s stalactites.

Every key on the organ triggers a small electric hammer, delicately striking stalactites of varying sizes scattered throughout the cave. The result is a mesmerizing cascade of otherworldly tones that resonate in the still, damp air, creating an unforgettable experience for the million annual visitors to Luray Caverns.

Maintaining an instrument of such magnitude presents unique challenges. Larry Moyer, who has dedicated 42 years to the Caverns, serves as the lead engineer of the organ. His meticulous care ensures that the electronics and miles of cables, essential for the instrument’s operation in the cave’s damp environment, remain in optimal condition.

Despite the challenging upkeep, Moyer recognizes the importance of passing on the legacy. Apprentices Stephanie Beahm and Ben Caton are diligently learning from Moyer, ensuring that future generations can continue to bask in the captivating sounds of The Great Stalacpipe Organ.

The organ’s ethereal notes, produced by the gentle taps of mallets on stone, transform the cave into a unique concert hall, where the natural beauty of stalactites meets the artistry of human ingenuity. The subterranean symphony echoes the unusual intersection of nature and technology, inviting visitors to experience a musical masterpiece hidden underground.

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Explore the hidden world beneath Virginia’s mountains. Share the wonder of The Great Stalacpipe Organ with others, and consider planning a visit to witness this unique fusion of nature and music.

Source: NPR by Alan Goffinski, November 7, 2023

Brenda Neece, DPhil (Oxon), is a cellist, organologist, writer, and teacher specializing in the history of the cello.