Writing Jelly Beans

 In Features

The first published piece by Christopher C. Castillo, Jelly Beans was met with enthusiasm by the local ragtime community. It has been noted as being simple enough for a beginner to play, which is exactly what it was intended for. The following is the composer’s account of the rag’s creation.

I had just finished writing Cardinal Rag when I decided that I needed to write a simpler rag. Cardinal Rag was the best piece of music that I had written up to that point, but I couldn’t perform it very well. This was a problem because I wanted to be able to perform with original music, so I just made it easier on myself. I was already planning to write Elementary Rag in the future, but I decided that I ought to write it next so that I would have an easy performance piece.

I chose the key of C Major because it seemed like the obvious key for beginners. By the second phrase however, I discovered that I was actually writing in D Major. I ended up sticking with that key, although I left the key signature as C Major for notation reasons. I also chose to break the conventional structure of a classic rag and instead opted for a linear piece with no repeats due to the simple and already repetitive main theme. The motif introduced in the first phrase is modified and echoed throughout the entire piece, giving it a consistent sound.

The left hand is incredibly simple, consisting of major chords played in a ragtime bass pattern. This was again to ensure that the rag was as simple as possible while staying true to the genre and style. As I was writing and rewriting, I had a hard time designing a cover for the piece, which I intended to publish. I wanted to share it with the community. I ended up changing the name to Jelly Beans for a simple reason, I was eating about a pound of jelly beans when I wrote it. The name seemed to fit the goofy character of the piece, so I created a quick black-and-white typographic cover for it.

I debuted Jelly Beans during the Texas Transportation Museum’s Santa’s Winter Railroad event where I was one of the volunteer pianists. I was able to play it well enough and even performed an impromptu 2-piano version for an approving crowd. After another performance in February, I was told that it might be fun for some of the younger students to play in the annual youth competition. When I heard that, I finally felt like I had come full circle from concept to reality. It was a good feeling.

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Cardinal Rag Sheet Music Cover