Kinnelon Lawyer uses Music to Calm Community During Pandemic

By: Evan Wechman

When the coronavirus pandemic hit New Jersey early this year, it surprised many business owners just how dire things would become.  In a matter of weeks, much had changed.  Before March was over, many businesses had closed, and many employees were forced to work from home.

The Michalski-Ottens Law firm had just celebrated its grand opening of its Pompton Plains office in February.  Olivia Michalski-Ottens, the principal lawyer who specializes in real estate law was perplexed over what to do next.  The real estate industry was being put temporarily on hold, but she wanted to let people in the community know she could help them with their legal needs. Besides specializing in real estate law, she also focuses on personal injury matters.  More importantly, the mother of three young daughters who lives in Kinnelon wanted to make a difference in the lives of her neighbors, many of whose lives were now in turmoil.

According to Michalski-Ottens, who graduated Seton Hall nearby before going away to study law, she loves all music, especially hits from the 1980’s.  She states that music was constantly being played in her house, by either herself or her loved ones.  The lawyer believed “everybody was looking for an outlet and people love music.”

She therefore launched the Michalski-Ottens Law Sunday Music Series where she had family, friends, and even professional musicians record their renditions of popular hits.  She would then play them on Sunday mornings on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram.

One of the first acts was performed by her husband, Bryan Ottens who played on the piano, his version of Billy Joel’s “Angry Young Man.”  This was a huge hit as it reached over 13 thousand views.  According to Olivia, “in our house, we were watching it (the videos) and it lifted our spirits.”  The sole proprietor maintains that music has the power to “heal” and help people.  She was encouraged by others to continue to book more acts to alleviate the anxieties of her fellow community members.

Many local residents wouldn’t know how to reach professional musicians but Bryan Ottens studied music at William Paterson College and is now president of the Peter E Schmitt Co, Inc in Pequannock.  He specializes in matching many leading musical brands to audio professionals worldwide who need such equipment.  As a result, Bryan reached out to family friend Thomas Claxton, an award-winning vocalist and songwriter.  Claxton has opened for many headliners like Mike Rutherford of Genesis, Quiet Riot, and the Marshal Tucker Band.

In the middle of May, Claxton played his version of the classic music piece, “Hallelujah,” written by Leonard Cohen, and people adored it.  According to Olivia, “Claxton is an amazing person.  He did an amazing job.”

Michalski-Ottens even included a Sunday devoted to children, many of whom have had their lives and routines changed as well from the pandemic. On a Sunday in late May, she featured Jared Kahn who produces virtual music classes for kids and whose act is usually referred to as “Jammin with Jared.” This was a big hit as well.

When the first few weeks of June passed, and the coronavirus situation in the area improved, people started going back to their respective offices. Michalski-Ottens felt it was time to end her Sunday music series but was proud of what it accomplished and the positive vibes she received from people in her community.   As part of the finale, she showcased New Jersey musical talent Jett Brando. Brando, who has been with several bands for over a few decades sang and played guitar to his rendition of Louis Armstrong’s classic “We Have All the Time In The World.”

“Music helped people get through this tough time,” she adds.  She sums up her thoughts best when she admits, “it has been a difficult and unprecedented time in our lives and we hope this series has lifted your spirits.”

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