Harmonic Structure for Now Eleanor's Idea

The harmony of Ashley's opera Now Eleanor's Idea (that is, the last and "title opera" of the tetralogy Now Eleanor's Idea) is entirely in jazz chords in the key of A-flat. Acts I, II, and IV employ "sus" chords, and Act III more dissonant altered dominants. All four acts are 22 minutes each.

In Act I the background orchestra plays a "sus" chord in A-flat over a B-flat drone. Behind Ashley's narration, the chorus sometimes interjects on A-flat, other times on the chord given below. Where Thomas Buckner, Sam Ashley, and Jacqueline Humbert echo Ashley's narration, they do so on the reciting pitches given as large notes below, and with the smaller notes as melodic ornaments. In the last minute, Joan La Barbara enters with a freer line in A-flat, beginning her narrative:

Act II begins and ends over a C minor 7 chord. Joan La Barbara's reciting tones in the first three-minute scene are B-flat, G, C, and E-flat; in the final one-minute scene she goes through a repeating sequence F, G, C, B-flat, E-flat, changing pitch each time she comes to a Spanish word. In the 18-minute-long middle section, La Barbara and Amy X. Neuberg sing glissandos (Neuberg echoing La Barbara) between pairs of pitches drawn from A-flat, D-flat, B-flat, and E-flat:

The audio example given here is the transition from Scene 1 of Act II to Scene 2, going from the first C m7 chord to the glissandos:

Act III is in three scenes, the outer ones three minutes long. The longer middle scene consists of callers to Now Eleanor's radio program asking for advice, and her answers. One chord is used for the letters, another for Now Eleanor's (La Barbara's) answers, and another when the narrator (Ashley) is speaking. F is the drone bass in all three, articulating the beginning of each four-beat measure. La Barbara sings mostly on the scale A-flat, A, B, E-flat, F, with a few ornamental notes. Reciting tones for the other singers are given in black noteheads. The notes here are based on Ashley's sketches, details not always audible on the recording:

Act IV employs a "sus" chord on A-flat throughout; when the chorus sings on this chord it includes a high G-flat. La Barbara improvises her song freely on an A-flat Mixolydian scale. Interjections in the narrative of "He" and "She" are given on D-flat and E-flat as shown:

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