Maestro Overcame Alcoholism to Create His Own Orchestra

"I realized that I had this severe problem, and needed to do something about it"
Andrew Thomas August 20, 2018

Alcoholism can hold people back from their best potential, and it can also destroy lives. This man struggled with alcohol for years, but now—they call him the Maestro.

George Marriner Maull grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in a musical household. Ever since he can remember, music has been a pillar in his life.

His mother was a highly trained classical pianist, and he began to learn from her at a very young age.

However, she quickly discovered it would be difficult to train her own sons. So, beginning in fourth grade, Maull and his brother attended St. Peter’s Choir School, and became further immersed in music.

In addition to a full academic curriculum, Maul studied piano and singing.


“It was really intense. It was a lot of performing,” Maull told Humanity.

Maull continued his passion for music into high school. Fortunately, music education was prominent in Philadelphia during the 1960s when he began going to public school.

Maull encountered a mentor by chance at school one day. He had heard Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” drifting down the hall, and he wandered toward the sound.

A teacher named Dr. Feinberg opened the classroom door and saw Maull sitting outside listening. He jovially asked Maull if he’d be more comfortable sitting in a chair.

George Mariner Maull. (Courtesy of L.D. Bright Photography)

Maull ended up auditing the class, and Dr. Feinberg became a close mentor.

“He became one of the greatest influences in my life. He was a genius at teaching music listening. I was like a sponge waiting for more,” Maull recalled.

Dr. Feinberg became his piano teacher, and then Maull picked up the viola as well. He became more and more drawn toward classical music and a career in music beckoned. But, in his teens, he discovered something else that made him feel good.

Maull lived with his mother and brother at his grandparents’ house when he was growing up.

His grandmother’s brothers were alcoholics, and the family was aware of the damage alcoholism can cause.

“Like any good kid, the more they said you must never try alcohol, I couldn’t wait,” Maull explained.

The drinking started off innocently enough, and Maull would drink socially with friends.

Around age 16, Maull began to discover alcohol’s numbing effects.

“It was like a cure-all. It was a magic potion that would allow you to not feel any feeling that you didn’t want to deal with at that moment,” Maull explained. “That could be as trivial as boredom, or as painful as some hurt that you experienced.”

“If you didn’t want to feel something, I realized quickly that having a drink of alcohol was something that could, temporarily at least, erase feelings.”

Maull also found that alcohol was a great social lubricant.

(Courtesy of Daniel Hedden)

Maull’s mother passed away when he was thinking about where to go to after high school.

He felt that he needed a little space, and ended up at the University of Louisville School of Music.

Maull did well, and at the end of his sophomore year he auditioned and earned a seat in the viola section of the Louisville Orchestra.

He was offered a full scholarship to the University of Louisville graduate school for music, and was appointed the conductor of the Louisville Ballet right out of graduate school.

Before he knew it, he had four different conducting positions in Louisville.

(Courtesy of Daniel Hedden)

However, he began to drink more.

In an attempt to control his drinking, he set rules, such as never drinking before a rehearsal or a concert.

But, those rules didn’t address the underlying addiction.

“After the day was done, I sort of would give myself permission to drink myself into a state of inebriation. Again, it sort of catches up with you,” Maull said.

Maull moved to New York in 1975 to pursue his career in classical music, and when he first arrived he didn’t have work lined up.

His drinking increased to daily consumption, and he started to break some of his old rules.

“I found myself drinking every day, and just not almost caring what the result was,” Maull recalled.

Once he began working full-time, he reinstated his own rules.

(Courtesy of Douglas F. Munch)

With time, he began to let some rules slide. The “no drinking before dinnertime” rule got relaxed if he didn’t have a rehearsal or concert that day.

“It began advancing to the point that I was concerned about it,” Maull remembered.

One night while intoxicated, he studied scores in preparation for a rehearsal. The next day, Maull still vividly remembers his confusion as he stepped up to conduct the orchestra.

“When I was standing in front of the orchestra I remember thinking to myself, ‘Why does this look unfamiliar?'” Maull recalled.

He had begun to realize the magnitude of the effect alcohol had on his work.

A close friend, who was a recovering alcoholic, had been gently trying to convince Maull to think about his drinking, and potentially quit.

But, Maull did not pay attention to his alcoholism for a long time.

(Courtesy of Daniel Hedden)

In the early 80s, his friend invited Maull over for dinner during Christmas time. Maull was still drinking to excess. He brought his own alcohol with him, as his friend’s house was dry.

While his friend was preparing dinner, Maull noticed some 12-Step program and meditation literature on the table.

Reaching over, he picked up the meditation book and started to leaf through the pages. Then it struck him.

“I no longer remember what page it was, but I remember reading that page and thinking to myself, ‘Oh my gosh. This is not my friend. This is me on this page. This page is talking about me. It is me,'” he said.

It was a powerful wake up.

“I realized at that moment that I was going to have to stop. If I didn’t I might seriously damage my health or even die,” Maull recalled.

He continued to drink until New Year’s Eve in 1983, only a few weeks after reading the literature.

On January 1, 1984, Maull asked his friend to take him to a meeting. That was his first day of sobriety.

“I realized that I had this severe problem, and needed to do something about it,” Maull explained.

(Courtesy of Daniel Hedden)

Maull has been sober for the last 34 years. When he gave up alcohol, he was able to focus on the power of music to express emotion and what is most important in life.

He was now able to push himself further in his classical music career.

Three years after Maull became sober, he was able to follow through on a lifelong dream. He established his own orchestra, The Philharmonic Orchestra of New Jersey, in 1987.

“That was something that would have been totally impossible had I continued drinking,” he said.

“Not only did [quitting alcohol] allow me to again continue my career as a conductor, but it also allowed me to finally focus on what is really the most important thing to me at this point, and that is to teach people how to listen to music, so more people can be moved by this incredible force that we call classical music.”

Maull’s orchestra gave him a platform for his mission. The Philharmonic Orchestra of New Jersey in 1987 became The Discovery Orchestra in 2006.

Maull and The Discovery Orchestra have been able to accomplish many of their goals in a short period of time.

They have produced four television shows for American Public Television, introducing classical music to millions of viewers across the country.

“It feels really good to know that we’re being of service to people in this way,” Maull said.

(Courtesy of Daniel Hedden)

He is also aware of other people’s addictions, and he tries to steer any person who asks for help in the right direction.

Maull gets feedback from people across the country about his efforts to make classical music accessible to all.

He has a note on his desk from a man from San Francisco that reads:

“I just watched your discovery concert on Bach on my local PBS channel here in San Francisco. My entire life I felt that something rich and spiritual must be involved in the music of composers like Bach, but no one ever explained it. Maestro Maull, like the gracious host of a great feast, politely opened the door, and in spite of my ignorance invited me to dine. He taught my ears and my mind to meditate on the bounty. I was moved to tears. Thank you for enriching my understanding.”

Whenever he has doubts about the impact of his work, and his career, Maull reads that note.

“It makes me feel like all the struggles with alcohol and all the pain that was involved with that are minor in comparison to being able to help people in this way,” he said.