Music is ubiquitous in our daily lives: in the grocery store, the car, the elevator. Maybe you loaded up your iPhone with music so you never have to go anywhere without a soundtrack. But when you stroll down the street with anything from Brahms to Beyoncé bumping in your ears, are you listening to the music — or just hearing it?
Maestro George Marriner Maull, artistic director of the Discovery Orchestra, has spent decades trying to help people learn a greater appreciation for classical music by teaching the difference between hearing and listening. Right now, you can learn the difference by watching “Fall in Love with Music,” an eight-part series starring Maull that is airing between now and April on KET.
Anytime someone tries to help our audience understand any art form better, we’re excited to share the news, but we get even more excited when that someone has strong local ties. Maull spent most of his 20s in Louisville. He attended music school at the University of Louisville and worked with the Louisville Orchestra, the Louisville Ballet and the Louisville Youth Choir, among others, before moving to new York.
Insider spoke with Maull by phone to get the lowdown on the show, how the Discovery Orchestra came to focus on music education, and what brought him to Louisville back in the fall of 1966.
“I was getting ready to go to music school in Philadelphia, where I grew up, and my mother died,” recalls Maull. The death of his mother led him into what he refers to as “a rather rebellious state,” so instead of attending school in his hometown and living with his dad, he ran away. “I went to my orchestra teacher and said, ‘Where can I got to school about 1,000 miles from here?’”
The teacher suggested several schools in the Midwest, including UofL. Maull visited Louisville and fell in love.
“We drove through a snowstorm to get to Louisville, and when we arrived, spring was starting to crack open in Kentucky, and the magnolia trees were starting to bud,” says Maull. “I got out of the car and thought, ‘Wow, if I could go to music school here, that would be fantastic.’”
Just two years into his college career, the Louisville Orchestra had an opening for a violist, and Maull got the job.
He started grad school at UofL with an eye toward conducting, working as an assistant conductor around town, and after graduating, he became the conductor for the Louisville Ballet.
All told, he spent nine years in Louisville, working just about every conducting job in town. He married another musician, Mary Lee Farris, an opera singer. The two eventually decided that for their careers to progress, they’d have to move to New York.
“We saved a tiny amount of money and packed everything in a truck and moved to New York City in the fall of 1975,” says Maull. But he never forgot the city that took him in and offered him an education and his first professional music gigs. “The nine years I spent in Louisville were fantastic. It was such a nurturing environment … it was like a gift to be there.”
In New York, Maull started playing in chamber orchestras and slowly building up a name for himself. He eventually became the first music director for the Philharmonic Orchestra of New Jersey. When that orchestra first began, it was a standard group, drawing from the classical canon.
Occasionally Maull would get letters and requests. “I began getting requests from people, questions like, ‘I wish I knew more about classical music,’ or we’d get a call like, ‘My wife has been dragging me to concerts for the last 25 years and I’m bored to tears, is there anything I can do that will help me understand this music?’”
Maull and the Philharmonic Orchestra of New Jersey began offering classes for adults to help them understand and appreciate classical music through a process he calls “active listening.”
The classes gave listeners tools to use, helping them understand the space between notes, the shape of a melody, or even the concept of time and movement as they apply to music. The tools all service what Maull refers to as “the a-ha moment,” when a person stops hearing and starts listening.
“That’s what we try to get to, what we call the ‘goosebumps experience,'” he says. “People get moved to the point of tears they’ve been so overwhelmed by the music.”
The classes were popular and led to a string of further experiments from the Philharmonic Orchestra of New Jersey. First was a series of successful concerts that taught active listening, then one concert was recorded as a special television program and shopped around to public stations. The success of that special led to two more one-off specials, which eventually led to the new series “Fall in Love with Music.”
Along the way, the Philharmonic Orchestra of New Jersey realized its work in educating adult audiences had come to define the organization.
“It began to dawn on the board and the donors and the staff that this was the most important thing we did,” says Maull. “We did not need to give regular symphonic concerts, because this metropolitan area is filled with professional symphonic orchestras. We need to have a new entity completely focused on giving people music instruction.”
And that’s how the Discovery Orchestra was born. The Philharmonic rebranded and has been focusing on music education ever since.
Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly stated the name of the Philharmonic Orchestra of New Jersey.