Jul 19, 2023
Interview With Discovery Orchestra Conductor George Marriner Maull: A Four-and-a-Half-Year-Old Fell In Love With a Symphony Recording. Seventy Years Later, He Hasn’t Changed.
By Isabelle Qi
At age 75, George Marriner Maull still gets lost in thoughts and daydreams. His unwillingness to root himself to a monotonous life without passion began as a feisty toddler sitting on the floor listening to a creaky symphony recording. The flame was sparked by his mother, a pianist, and led Maull to form The Discovery Orchestra, a professional orchestra in New Jersey. He now serves as the orchestra’s Artistic Director and conductor. The journey wasn’t without difficulty. “Many professional orchestras’ ticket income is only a third of what giving a concert costs,” Maull says. “Some of our concerts at NJPAC cost more than $100,000 to produce, while television shows can cost up to $500,000! Renting NJPAC’s Prudential Hall for one day – that fee alone is $25,000.” In the end, however, it all paid off. The orchestra received Emmy nominations for its shows Bach to the Future, Discover Beethoven’s Fifth, and Discover Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. The Discovery Orchestra helps people discover the true meaning of music through concerts that teach how to listen to music instead of just hearing it.
IQ: How old were you when you first became interested in music?
GMM: I was four-and-a-half years old. My mother had purchased this 33⅓ RPM vinyl record of the New World Symphony by Dvořák. We sat on the floor and listened to it together. And I was…totally changed by that experience. I divide my life into two parts: before listening to that recording and after, because there was something so pivotable. I was never the same, after being so moved by the sound of a symphony orchestra, even though it was being played on a very lousy monophonic record player.
IQ: To be that affected at such a young age – and have that be the cause for everything that followed – that’s just amazing.
GMM: Well, we have to give my mother credit for preparing me for that experience. She brought in string quartet friends to play chamber music. She also had friends in the Philadelphia Lyric Opera Company, who would come and sing while she played – not to mention her piano students. I think I was so saturated at that crucial time. In fact, they say the last few months before we’re born, we start to hear. How many times did I sit inside my mother listening to her practice those last two months? I really wonder, because obviously, I had no choice in the matter. I was a passenger on this boat.
IQ: Do any other memories come to you when you think about your early childhood in music?
GMM: I liked to lie under the grand piano while my mother practiced. It was very loud and intense. That was a favorite moment of mine from childhood.
IQ: As you grew up, did your mother see your success? If you could talk to her now, what would you say?
GMM: I wish I could talk to her now. She was diagnosed with cancer my senior year in high school. She died when I was 18. And so, I feel that there’s a bit of sadness for me. I feel like she never quite got to see me grow up. We discussed whether I could become a musician, and if I could go to music school. My grandmother wanted me to become a clergyman. The thing was that I wanted to be a musician since I was ten. I was fighting against myself, but I told my mother, I just really want to do this. And she finally said before she died, well, okay, do it. If I could talk to her now I think I would say, “I hope you’re happy with what I’ve been able to achieve.”
IQ: You didn’t want to become a clergyman. The only thing you really loved was music?
GMM: Correct. To be a musician, it’s like being a minister. It’s a calling. It chooses you. The problem is, it doesn’t always work out the way you want it to.
IQ: You often urge audience members to listen instead of hear. What do you mean by that?
GMM: Listening means giving your full, undivided attention. First note to the last, and every note in between. If you’re Tchaikovsky, or Rachmaninoff, or Beethoven, you expect that from your audience. Well, some people listen very intently, and others just hear. It goes in one ear and out the other. They don’t really pay attention. They might do other things at the same time. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. But music can be very moving. You can learn all sorts of things if you just listen.
Isabelle Qi (pronounced chee) will be a junior at Ridge High School in Basking Ridge, New Jersey this fall. She has been studying piano for 12 years and loves classical music, its history, and its impact on listeners and society. In addition to excelling as a young pianist who performs regularly in various community venues for seniors and other groups, Isabelle also enjoys writing, reading, exploring legal topics, playing tennis, learning history, and drawing. She has received a number of national awards as an author and regularly writes for her school newspaper, Ridge Devil’s Advocate, on a variety of subjects, including this interview with Maestro Maull. Isabelle hopes her writing can help more people understand and appreciate classical music!