The morning of September 11, 2001, Brook Packard, her 8-year-old daughter, Clara, and several neighborhood children took their inaugural walk to school to cut down on traffic and create a sense of community. Later that night, Brook walked beside her husband, George Packard, Bishop of Armed Forces and chaplains in the military, through the devastation at Ground Zero. In the stark silence, she heard Strauss and Mahler harmonies, as well as Philip Glass’s music from the film “Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance” in her head.
By Melanie Cane
The morning of September 11, 2001, Brook Packard, her 8-year-old daughter, Clara, and several neighborhood children took their inaugural walk to school to cut down on traffic and create a sense of community.
Later that night, Brook walked beside her husband, George Packard, Bishop of Armed Forces and chaplains in the military, through the devastation at Ground Zero. In the stark silence, she heard Strauss and Mahler harmonies, as well as Philip Glass’s music from the film “Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance” in her head.
In her 9/11 journal Brook described the first of many Ground Zero tours. “There are no words to describe the scope of emotion … the highs and lows that accompanied that experience ….As we get closer, the generators musically score our approach with their percussive drone. You are struck by the height of the pile, the smoke rising, the shell of the first few stories of one of the towers. Even without the 90-plus stories on top, you still must tilt your head back to take it all in. You turn a corner and even though you’ve been through checkpoint after checkpoint, seen the dust and the rubble, the physical evidence of this act, it is a surprise. Like happening upon a glade in a forest where Rumpelstiltskin dances, or a secret society convenes ….George leaves the morgue at 1:30. When we pass by the Winter Garden, I peer through the windows, see the row of palm trees in the atrium, and recall times when I left glamorous parties there, around the same time in the morning, laughing with friends.”
The disparate descriptions epitomize Brook and illustrate the unpredictable nature of her life.
Growing up outside Hartford, Brook taught herself to play guitar, wrote songs, attended every theatrical possible, and took lessons at The Hartford Stage. She gave music lessons and played in coffee houses to make money.
Hoping to become a writer, she went to Sarah Lawrence, but the college steered her to the music department, because her admission application essay was all about music. After college she studied early music and opera, and participated in small ensembles, performing at the Weill and Merkin concert halls.
In 1991, with two partners, she started a children’s music label. Their recordings received critical acclaim. While promoting the records at a museum concert, someone asked her if she could act. An off-Broadway show was looking for a woman who could sing, act, and play stand-up bass. She got the part and performed in off-Broadway and regional theater productions for the next few years, and was in the original cast of “Cowgirls and Swingtime Canteen”.
She quit acting when she got pregnant, and devoted herself to teaching early childhood music because she could bring her daughter with her. At the time, a single mother, she also managed the studio of an opera conductor, took opera lessons, and auditioned in that field.
Enter George Pack-ard, interim priest at the Church of Epiphany where Brook worked. After they fell in love, he asked her to quit her job there, and then asked her to marry him. She went to work for Grace Church in New York City, leading the band and running children’s ministries until George was called to be Priest-in-charge at Christ’s Church.
They moved to Rye and married in June of 1999. Three months later, George was elected Bishop. George started as Bishop of Armed Forces and, after multiple promotions, was named Bishop of Federal Ministries.
By 9/11/01, Brook was still trying to reconcile her life as a musician and teacher with that of a bishop’s wife. The events of that day made her role much clearer. George helped organize pastoral care at Ground Zero. His experience as a Vietnam veteran prepared him for this role. While George walked the streets of New York City and Ground Zero formulating a 100-Day Support Mission for pastoral care, Brook raised Clara and helped George behind the scenes.
She wrote of this time, “I couldn’t stop thinking about what to do, how to contribute. I kept praying for the opportunity to minister. For the time being I’m picking up loose threads, making connections, writing George’s blog, and securing provisions ….On the morning of September 13, I came downstairs and found George in the kitchen washing his boots. They were covered in that fine powder — the death dust, he called it. ‘It won’t wash out … it never comes off.’ We kind of collapsed.”
George retired in June 2010 and her daughter recently went off to college on an academic and music scholarship, leaving Brook free to focus on her career.
She’s grabbing the proverbial bull by the horn. Her new venture, Playland Music, (www.playlandmusic.com), provides multiple music services.
Brook calls herself a musical populist; she’s a firm believer that everyone is supposed to make music in one way or another and she loves the fact that music builds community. In the process of developing her own early childhood music program, her ultimate goal is to create a music school that will run as a cooperative.
Brook and George will be spending the tenth anniversary of September 11 with “Pete Seeger and Friends,” a Commemoration in Music and Film at NYU’s Rosenthal Pavilion.