Remembering Lifelong Musician Michael Packer

Remembering Lifelong Musician Michael Packer

Johann Sebastian Bach Harpsichord Music book belonging to Michael Benjamin Packer. Collection 9/11 Memorial Museum.

Michael Packer was a lifelong musician, and an early encounter with a legendary cellist was a formative moment. His wife, Rekha, shared the story of his meeting with Pablo Casals in a Call to Remember recording:

“When Michael was ten years old, he and his family were invited to meet the great cellist Pablo Casals. Michael played a Bach piano piece to the maestro’s great enjoyment. As Michael’s reward, Casals gave him some advice for the future. He told Michael to do three things each and every day of his life. First, to play some music of Bach for the soul. Second, to step outside and admire the beauty of nature. And third, to remember consciously every day of his life that he is unique—that there never was before and there never would be again someone exactly like him, and that he had an obligation to make his own unique contribution to enrich the lives of the people around him.”

This humble advice foretold a life filled with passion, curiosity, and of course, music. Packer’s passion for Bach’s works grew as he did. As a high school student, he combined this love with his talent for engineering, constructing several harpsichords from kits. His knowledge of the inner workings of the instrument allowed him to earn money tuning harpsichords during his undergraduate years at Harvard University. He continued to play the piano and the harpsichord into his adult life.

While in college he met his wife, Rekha. They supported each other in the pursuit of advanced degrees—Michael earned his PhD in mechanical engineering from MIT, and Rekha received a law degree. Eventually the couple settled in Hartsdale, N.Y., where they welcomed two children.

Packer brought the same engaged curiosity to parenthood, filling their home with music, literature and science, and going above and beyond to create amazing experiences for his children and their friends.

Packer family birthday parties became legendary affairs; one year, guests could sit in the cockpit of a private airplane, for another birthday a bulldozer found its way to their driveway. In summer 2001, the family sailed the Aegean Sea, following the travels of Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey.

In his professional life, Packer’s intellectual curiosity and talent for problem solving made him an industry leader in the world of online finance. On 9/11, he had been invited to be the keynote speaker at a Risk Waters technology conference, high in the North Tower.

Noting the advice that her husband had received from Pablo Casals as a young boy, Rekha Packer reflected: “Michael learned the lesson well. He ennobled our lives with humor and a quiet optimism that we all carry with us to this day.”

The dulcet sounds of Bach, a favorite of Michael’s, will be played on the 9/11 Memorial plaza during this year’s Make Music New York event. More details can be found here.

By Kirsten Madsen, Assistant Manager of Memorial Exhibition, 9/11 Memorial Museum