The New York musician achieves an artistic record during the Covid quarantine by performing with more than 100 people, mainly remotely; a cast of friends and former students on all seven continents, ending with Carter Jones at McMurdo Station in Antarctica.
Artists are constantly improvising in every aspect of their creative work: it’s part of the job. So what happens when work – and the whole industry itself – comes to a record halt?
Improvise. To explore. To show creativity. Artists are often at their best when confronted with unusual ways to create, and multi-instrumentalist Rachel A. Kaufman was no exception. She found a clever way to get us to sing together even though we were far, far apart.
On July 17, 2021, after filming over 200 mostly remote duets which she dubbed “CoVideos”, Rachel, seated at her piano in Brooklyn filmed number 201 with Carter Jones, coming to him from the research station McMurdo on Ross Island in Antarctica. Carter strummed his guitar and sang John Prine’s “You Got Gold” beautifully while Rachel accompanied him coolly on harmonica. You can watch the full broadcast here:
“There were two times I got a little emotional while making these CoVideos: The first was at the end of filming the historic 200th CoVideo – I thought it would be my very last. The other was during the presentation by Carter Jones, a vocalist, bassist and guitarist working as a tech in Antarctica at the time, because he helped me achieve my goal of doing these CoVideos with people on all seven continents.”
In March 2020, when the coronavirus officially hit our shores, it shut down several industries that couldn’t do live theater remotely first among them. Rachel had managed to hold on to a few remaining gigs that had managed to navigate without being able to rehearse in person, one of those jobs was performing for an audition technique course for the Professional Conservatory of Musical Theater at the New York Film Academy. These lessons were instantly switched to remote, as such Rachel bought an iPad in order to download sheet music and record tracks for her students to sing along to. While continuing to do this for her students, Rachel realized that if she placed the iPad at one end of the piano and her iPhone at the other, she could potentially accompany friends from anywhere in the world. .
And she did.
Rachel’s inaugural CoVideo began right here in our center of the world, New York, doing “Look to the Rainbow” with her father, Albert Kaufman. In number three, she was connected in Europe with Hiram Johnson in Germany, singing “Fly Me To The Moon”.
Step aside, Coronavirus… it’s art that has now gone global!
Rachel posted these performances every morning on Facebook and developed a number of followers. Its viewers were quick to express the joy they felt watching these unique and fun collaborations and, likewise, their curiosity about the process. Many viewers asked him, “How do you sync things up with the people you accompany? Do you use any special app or equipment?” His response was “No…it’s a magic trick. Each remote singer would get their pitch from me in an intro and from there I would ask each of them not to listen to me and to just keep time on their side.” As an accompanist, Rachel is used to following singers, so she did the same in these remote-only CoVideos. She also deliberately chose people she knew could handle this slightly awkward and difficult setup, and also asked everyone to sing uplifting or fun songs – energy we all needed during this difficult time.
This pandemic has redefined being discouraged for much of humanity and our lack of connection with one another. For Rachel, this project redefined everything that is uplifting about our relationships, even though we couldn’t be together in person at the time. These CoVideos have reconnected Rachel with so many friends and former students – over 100 people from all over the world. Through these live recordings, everyone involved learned how each was navigating life, as humans and artists unable to work normally during this unprecedented time. This project gave everyone the chance to feel a bit normal again by collaborating with other artists, an endeavor usually done in person.
Rachel says: “After completing a CoVideo with a friend in Australia, which checked off six of the seven continents, I was only missing Antarctica and was determined to find someone. As part of my mission, I joined pretty much every Antarctica related group on Facebook and messaged them about my project and what I was looking for.I also emailed many research stations in Antarctica. I posted on Facebook that I was looking for someone in Antarctica that I could record one of these duets with. Months passed, and by the time I reached my historic goal of number 200, I had mostly resigned to not being able to find someone there, and I was ok with that…but I didn’t completely give up hope. And then Kristen Booth came along!”
Kristen Booth, an artist and solutions consultant with her own New York company, Produced By Booth, responded. “I’ve been following – and singing! – with Rachel’s co-videos for much of 2020 and saw that she needed help. I decided to give it a try and after a bit of due diligence, I found Keri Nelson, who has this impressive online resume of working in Antarctica for over ten years.” Kristen connected Keri and Rachel, telling them both of the goal, and then, quite honestly, she forgot about it. Until she woke up to the music post on Facebook months later.
“I had no idea how hard Rachel really went to achieve this or that Keri actually responded. Keri herself was no longer ‘on the ice’ by the time she responded to Rachel; however, she had a musician friend who indeed still was: Carter Jones.” Kristen knew it was special: “I was so excited about this news and everything about it; how it all came together. I held my breath for a moment at the start of their song and then I got more and more excited about the performance, especially seeing how emotional Rachel was. This beautiful song and show was very welcome good news to wake up to after a long year in this pandemic. I was so impressed.
Rachel A. Kaufman has created more than 200 shows accompanying more than 100 musicians and singers in 19 countries, including Ilda Mason (West Side Story Broadway Revival & Film); Wysandria Woolsey (original cast member of Chess, Parade, Beauty & The Beast); Irma Flores (currently playing Jasmine in Aladdin in Mexico); Cor Ben Williams; a husband and wife team of Christopher Sutton & Lyn Philistine; Cynthia Shaw; Lisa Ann Wright; Mark Aaron James Katryna Marttala; Lawrence Rush; Adam Barruche; Richard Skipper; Shelly Watson; Tym Moss; Barbara Herr; and Laura Daniel Koch. Rachel has kept a detailed list of all the artists she has collaborated with, including their locations, dates, and song choices.
Rachel’s “CoVideo” series spanned from March to October 2020, growing into a library of over 200 CoVideos with performances from North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, Antarctica, as well as with a cruise ship musician friend who was quarantined on board for months. In December 2020, she rebooted the CoVideo series recording 28 English and international versions of the holidays, including songs in Italian, Spanish, Icelandic, Estonian, Japanese, Yiddish, Hebrew and Javanese.
Rachel A. Kaufman is a seasoned musical director, accompanist, musician and composer who has performed and conducted over 300 musicals and cabaret shows worldwide. She has also worked with big names on Broadway such as Donna McKechnie, Baayork Lee, Savion Glover and Donna Murphy, to name a few. Rachel holds a BA in Music (and Russian!) from the University of Chicago. Find her on Instagram at @rkaufman.md. You can also view some of Rachel’s CoVideos on her YouTube channel, Radini7, as well as if you search the hashtag #covidwithradini on Facebook.