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World’s Biggest Musical Instrument

Updated on October 27, 2009

An amateur video recording of the Stalacpipe Organ

A very small fraction of the stalactites being played
A very small fraction of the stalactites being played
Console with four mauals
Console with four mauals

This organ covers an astonishing 3.5 acres and is heard within 64 acres from the console

The world’s biggest functioning musical instrument is the “Great Stalacpipe Organ”. This exceptional instrument covers 3.5 acres (about 14.2 km²) down in Luray Caverns, in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. The term “Stalacpipe Organ” was coined by the Washington Post famous music critic Paul Hume, combining the word “Stalactite” and “Pipe Organ”. The organ works in fact by playing countless stalactites tuned to concert pitch. This instrument, unique in its kind, was designed by Mr. Leland W. Sprinkle. Mr. Sprinkle combined his musical talent with his electronic engineering activities. He was a mathematician and electronic scientist at the Pentagon, and studied organ with Virgil Fox at the Peabody Conservatory of Music. He began building the organ in 1954, and after 3 years of assiduous work, the monumental instrument was ready to be officially presented to the public. During those 3 years, Mr. Sprinkle tuned each stalactite to the desired concert pitch, and created a system by which he would be able to play the stony icicles from the console with four keyboards (Echo, Solo, Cathedral and Harmonic), stops, a set of couples and a pedal board. The stalactites are played through a striking mechanism, with rubber-tipped mallets being fired through an electric impulse, thus producing a remarkably pure sound. This astonishing instrument produces a sound that is heard within 64 acres (about 259 km²) from the console. Because of humidity, the stalactites require constant care and tuning.

For many years the organ has been played by Mr. Sprinkle, however nowadays the organ is played automatically for the tourists by a “robot” organist reproducing faithfully all the effects of manual performance.

This is by far the most extraordinary and monumental musical instrument of all times.


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