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The Virginia cavern that can play the Moonlight Sonata

June 21, 2017 at 6:15 PM EDT
In our NewsHour Shares moment of the day, this year marks the 60th anniversary of “The Great Stalacpipe Organ,” the largest musical instrument in the world, built into Virginia’s Luray Caverns.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: And to our NewsHour Shares, something that caught our eye that may be of interest to you, too.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the debut of a musical oddity, the Great Stalacpipe Organ of Virginia’s Luray Caverns.

NewsHour recently got a behind-the-scenes look at the one-of-a-kind instrument from those who know it best.

Cavern historian John Shaffer starts us off.

JOHN SHAFFER, Luray Caverns Corporation: Luray Caverns is home to the largest musical instrument in the world, the Great Stalacpipe Organ.

And it plays the stalactites. The organ was created by Leland W. Sprinkle. Mr. Sprinkle toured the caverns in 1954 with his young son, and, at that time, the guides would tap stalactites to show that the different sizes give off different tones.

LARRY MOYER, Operations Manager: What he did was take rubber mallets and a concept of an organ and put it all together Into an instrument.

I’m Larry Moyer. I am operations manager for the Great Stalacpipe Organ.

You’re actually standing inside the organ as it plays, because the stalactites cover over three-and-a-half acres around us. Basically, we call it like a player-type piano. So, the sheet of plastic is your song, and as the drum rotates, the metal brushes fall into contact through holes in the plastic and sends the notes out.

And, on occasion, we will have an organist present.

OTTO PEBWORTH, Organist: A pipe organ produces its sounds by forcing air through columns. What we are doing here is, we are actually playing a 37-note percussion instrument.

My name is Otto Pebworth. I play the organ here at Luray Caverns, and I have been playing pipe organs now for close to 30 years.

It’s very settling, very soothing. I just have a chance just to stop and let everything go quiet and make music. And that’s what makes it the nicest thing.

A room like this lends itself more towards the more peaceful things like “Moonlight Sonata” or some of the Bach preludes. The Stalacpipe Organ is a totally unique instrument unto itself, and, because of that, you can just hear something that is just totally natural and totally special. Can’t be duplicated.

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