Music

Violinist Leah Ottman, who played with many Twin Cities musicians, dies at 33

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As a 5-year-old, Leah Ottman heard an instrument she liked while listening to her parents’ classical music and told her mother she wanted to learn to play “that one.”

She began taking violin lessons using the Suzuki method, launching a passion for music that would continue until her unexpected death Dec. 2 at the age of 33. Family members said she had not been ill and her death was being investigated.

“Leah touched an enormous part of the Twin Cities music community,” singer-songwriter Dessa said. “She collaborated widely and across the musical spectrum.”

Dessa and Ottman, who used the stage name LOTT, shared a wall as neighbors in an Uptown apartment building, which meant trading apologies for late-night rehearsals, borrowing a printer or Wi-Fi and leaving each other notes or small gifts. During the pandemic, the two performed concerts while socially distanced in the hallway, Ottman on the violin and Dessa singing.

A classically trained musician, Ottman’s uncommon range and her facility for improvisation were noted in the outpouring on social media after her death. TPT posted condolences and a video of her performing “With the Reply” for the “Pandemic Performances” web series.

Ottman was born in Seoul, South Korea, and adopted by Tom and Mary Ottman of Blaine, the second of five children and the first of four adoptees in the family. She studied ballet, set records as a swimmer at Andover High School and played in the Northern Symphony Orchestra alongside her teachers. She attended Bethel University in Arden Hills on a partial musical scholarship and graduated with degrees in communications and music in 2009.

“Leah had this charisma about her that she was never aware of,” her mother said.

Ottman also had a range of interests, lots of tattoos and a warm, sassy personality. Friends and family recalled her devotion to Patsy Cline, Poliça and the Green Bay Packers.

Poliça was among the numerous notable Twin Cities artists with whom Ottman recorded or performed, including We are the Willows, Jeremy Messersmith, Jacob Pavek, FOG, Andrew Bird, Mark McGee and Rogue Valley. She joined Father John Misty on stage when he headlined Rock the Garden in 2018, and made the City Pages “Best Of” list in 2015 and 2016 for acoustic performer and vocalist.

Ottman worked in advertising sales for a while at City Pages, where she met Caitlin Sweeney, a fellow violinist. For a couple of years, she had a regular gig accompanying the University of Minnesota Dance program at practice.

Sweeney said Ottman juggled multiple jobs to pay the bills. “She just hustled,” Sweeney said. “Leah was not the person to say no to opportunities.”

After Sweeney moved to New York a few years ago, Ottman became a regular visitor, timing trips to coincide with Poliça performances. Sweeney said Ottman seamlessly folded into New York life, spending the day with friends or in an impromptu busking session.

Knowing Sweeney’s love of pandas, Ottman once was unable to resist buying her an ugly ceramic figurine with bulging eyes, saying, “I’m sorry you’re going to have to hold onto this.” Sweeney laughed at the memory: “Seven years later it’s still on my desk.”

Messersmith said Ottman’s skills and ability to improvise live were staggering. “She was incredibly irreverent and just a fierce advocate for herself,” he said, describing with a laugh the time he asked her to play with him on a project. Her reply: “Yeah, what are you going to pay me?”

In addition to her parents, Ottman is survived by her sister, Jessica, of Minneapolis, and brothers Gabriel and Aaron, both of Blaine, and Michael of Winona, Minn. Services have been held.

Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747

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