Bless This Meal, from Watch the Birdie (Day 52)

Bless This Meal imageThe next song from Watch the Birdie, Bless This Meal is so big, it comes in two parts! It’s a supersized meal, I guess, a banquet with many courses. This eleven-minute mini-musical has been staged as a stand-alone work on several occasions. It serves as a kind of centerpiece for Watch The Birdie, just like the dinner table is a center of traditional family life, a place where the family comes together.


Mealtime should be a sacred ritual,
Something habitual
That’s healthy and humane.
Face to face
Across the family table,
Saying grace
We keep the family stable.
A special place,
A shelter from the fray
To feed our hungry spirits
At the end of every day.

Bless this meal, o lord, we pray.
As we gather at the table
Let us gather, if we’re able,
Strength to face another day.
Strength to face another day.

This number is far too long to reproduce its entire text, but I want to comment on “How Those Peaches,” the song that begins Part Two of this number. I spoke the words “How those peaches?” to my dad as I spoon-fed him his lunch at a nursing home in Delaware. My father was in his mid-60’s when he developed a brain tumor that robbed him of his speech, his mobility and eventually his life. My dad was an engineer, not an artist, but he definitely passed along some entrepreneurial tendencies to his only son. He was fired from his position as chief executive of a small manufacturing business in his late 50’s, and if he was still around, he and I could share a laugh over how similar that experience was to what happened to ME in my late 50’s.

My dad is on the far left, seated next to his father, Stanley Gilbert. That's me on the right, rocking some regrettable hair, and my son Alex (age 1) on my lap

My dad is on the far left, seated next to his father, Stanley Gilbert. That’s me on the right, rocking some regrettable hair, and my son Alex (age 1) on my lap

I’m sure my dad was mystified by plenty of the choices I made, but I never doubted for an instant that I had his unconditional love and support. (Well, there was a matter of $500 in parking tickets that he refused to pay for me, but by making me face the music on that one, he taught me a useful life lesson.) Dad encouraged me to write “good schlock,” that is, work that was likely to have commercial success (“schlock”) but still had quality and integrity. D’Arcy and I still bring up that phrase from time to time, and chuckle about the funny mixture of wisdom and naivete in his advice. The silent figure in the wheelchair in that scene is my dad, deprived of his speech but not his memories, and the image of me spoon-feeding the man who cared for me as an infant is still heartbreakingly ironic.

The whole “Bless This Meal” montage was added to Watch The Birdie in 1998, when the work was re-envisioned for a larger ensemble. “Help Yourself” (the second half of Part One) was originally written for the backyard spaghetti dinner scene in Gemini the Musical, but I discovered it fit perfectly into this sequence when we undertook Bless This Meal as a stand-alone musical in the UArts Summer Pre-College Program.

If you missed them, these are the songs already posted on Project 194; the links on the right are songs chosen at random from previous posts. Want to contribute to my interactive composition, “Hear My Song?” Read more here. Want to receive daily songs delivered direct to your inbox? Sign up here!

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