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Where Legal Meets Musical, The Unexpected Path of Flutist Linda Mintener

Flute Talk Editors | September 2013

    Musicians follow many paths. Throughout her professional life, Linda Mintener has combined her musical skills with her career as an attorney. After graduating from Indiana University with a degree in flute performance followed by a stint in the Peace Corps, Mintener returned to school to earn a law degree from the University of Wisconsin. She continued to perform and teach in Madison, Wisconsin and was instrumental in the development of the Madison Flute Club. A few years ago she became legal counsel to the National Flute Association using her talents as a lawyer and a musician to guide the organization. Since 2007 she has helped organize concerts to raise money for Chinese orphans. Each April flutists from across the globe come to Madison to perform and raise funds for this worthy organization.

    Linda Mintener fell in love with the piccolo as a child in Iowa. After she heard it played at a basketball game, she was determined to play the instrument. She was told, however, that she had to learn the flute first. Reluctantly, she took up the flute. Unfortunately there was no band program in her junior high, so while she took lessons, there was little motivation or inspiration to practice. Since she had studied piano previously, she became good at faking it. When she entered a high school with a good band that had several flutists who played much better than she did, she began to practice in earnest. Her father, impressed with her dedication to the flute, bought her a used wooden piccolo with a silver head and a closed hole model Haynes flute. By her senior year in high school, she had improved enough to surpass most of the others in the band and to consider majoring in music in college.

Where did you attend college?
    I wanted to go away to school but had no idea where, so my parents took me to visit schools in the Midwest. At Indiana University, my cousin, who lived in Bloomington, had lined up an opportunity for me to play for the flute professor, James Pellerite. At the time, I did not know of his fame as a teacher or the strength of the music program at IU. I must have played well, since I was offered a scholarship on the spot. What an honor for a high school student who had only been serious about the flute for a couple of years. That was just too good to turn down. The decision was made. IU it was.
    During my second semester at IU, one of my older brothers came to visit. He was shocked to see my schedule of mostly music courses: flute, piano, voice, fundamentals of singing, orchestra, music theory, and music history. From his point of view, I was not getting an education, but only learning to play the flute, to which he gave little importance. He convinced me to drop the idea of so much music and to take more non-music courses. As a result, I switched to a double major in music and general liberal arts and took an overload of credits every semester. Many years later, that decision played a significant role in my admission to the University of Wisconsin Law School.

What did you do after college?
    I got married, and went with my new husband to Guinea, West Africa with the Peace Corps. Guinea was a newly-independent country that wanted a band to greet foreign dignitaries with their national anthems. I taught flute in the National School of Music in Conakry and also to a group of army men. I cannot say it was the best teaching experience. The high school students were less than enthusiastic, and my French, though fluent, did not include musical terms and expressions. The flutes had open G#s, which I had never seen, and pads that quickly deteriorated in the hot, humid weather. I had no flute repair experience and no screw driver to fix even the simplest problems with the students’ flutes. Added to that, the students were often on strike after days without food other than rice. Playing the flute was not a priority for them. The army men marched to lessons barefooted. Most were illiterate, which made it nearly impossible to teach them to read music. Guinea had a wealth of its own music, drumming, and dancing. I felt it was a shame to impose the American/European style of music on them. It was no surprise that I was not very successful. When I left two years later, I don’t think any of my students had learned enough flute to impress the foreign dignitaries as they stepped off the plane. The work did give me a great opportunity to get to know Guinean students and to understand their culture and educational system. I felt my other Peace Corps work as organizer of the French/English interpreters on the American Hospital Ship HOPE was more successful.

What led you to go to law school?
    I come from a family of lawyers – male lawyers. As a young girl, my father often said I would have made the best lawyer in the family – it was too bad I was a girl. In those days, women simply were not lawyers. Thoughts of becoming a lawyer were far from my mind when I went to college. The idea to go to law school came after I returned to the U.S. My husband and I had settled in Madison, Wisconsin. I was happily teaching flute privately to a large number of students, performing with a flute duet partner, O’Ann Fredstrom, and raising two small children, when my husband left the family and moved to another state. In those days, the collection of child support from another state was problematic, at best. My private teaching income went up and down with the seasons and the economy, and did not provide financial stability or the safety net of health, disability, and life insurance benefits. Additionally, my teaching schedule left little time to be with my children since I taught after school and weekends when my children needed me the most.
    It was O’Ann (who later went to medical school and became a psychiatrist) who gave me the idea of attending law school. Even though she had been denied admission to the University of Wisconsin Law School twice, she encouraged me to give it a shot. It seemed logical since I thought I would be guaranteed a job with my family’s law firm in Iowa upon graduation.
    Having been out of school for several years, I took an LSAT review course. I believe doing well on the LSAT was the key to my admission. None of my applied music courses counted toward the credits or grade point used by the law school admission committee. If I had not heeded my brother’s advice years before to double major in music and general liberal arts, I would never have gotten into law school.

While in law school did you continue playing and teaching?
    Initially I thought law school meant switching careers and giving up the flute entirely. I soon realized that I could continue to teach private lessons to support my family while I was in law school and maintain at least some playing level and keep my finger in the music world.
    Law school was difficult, and the competition was tough. I had always been a good student, at the top of my class. In law school, everyone else had also been at the top of the class. However, I was surprised to find that 1/3 of my class was women. How the world had changed since I was a child. 
    Being a single parent, a flute teacher on evenings and weekends, and a full-time law student was daunting. Even thirty years later, I still shy away from sitting at the desk in my home where I spent countless hours reading law books. With a lot of hard work, I graduated in the top fourth of my class in 2½, rather than the usual 3 years.
    After graduation I had to find a job. I had thought to join the family law firm, but that turned out not to be an option. My father by then had died; one of my brothers had just moved from California to join the firm; and my nephew had graduated from the University of Iowa a year earlier and was a new member of the firm. There was no place for me, so I was on my own to search for a job. Law firms were not exactly wild about hiring women, so applications there got nowhere. I turned to government employment, first in a limited term position as assistant district attorney prosecuting traffic and misdemeanor cases, then as law clerk to a circuit court judge before being offered a permanent position as a tax attorney with the Wisconsin Department of Revenue.
    Practicing law was much more fun than law school. Law school teaches one how to think, but not how to actually practice law. On the job training was minimal, so I had to teach myself. I was fascinated by the strategies to organize and win cases. I learned much from my opponents and from studying how others handled cases. Though I had other offers along the way, I enjoyed tax law enough to stay with the Department of Revenue for almost 28 years, until my retirement in the fall of 2010.

Did you continue to play and teach the flute?
    While I practiced law, I kept up with the flute, teaching on evenings and weekends, playing with the Madison Flute Choir, and performing for churches, weddings and recitals. Although I did not realize it at the time, there are some similarities between the two. Both flute playing and practicing law take a certain aggressiveness. Standing up before a judge confidently to plead a case was not so different from what flutists do when they perform as they unravel difficult notes, rhythms, and phrasing to make sense of them and confidently and convincingly communicate the meaning to the audience. Additionally, finding the right words or methods to make a student understand how to play or sound a certain way was not so different from making a judge understand the esoteric provisions of the tax law without being boring.
    My attorney colleagues had no idea I was a musician although once, when I walked into a hearing room for a meeting with attorneys and a tax judge, one attorney gave me a surprised look and said, “You played flute at my wedding 20 years ago.” My students and musician friends similarly were often amazed to discover that I was a lawyer.

How did you become the legal advisor to the National Flute Association?
    A few years ago, the National Flute Association asked me to act as their legal advisor. The NFA is an amazing organization with many dedicated volunteers who give incredible amounts of time to offer a great service to flutist throughout the world. Though I was more than busy with two professions, a new husband, and four teenagers, I felt it was my turn to give back to the organization that had given so much to the flute community. For once, my skills as a lawyer and a flutist met, with both professions useful to the same people for the same purposes. Contract review, document drafting, and providing legal opinions and advice in the flute world were right up my alley. I’ve enjoyed doing it for several years now.

How did you get involved with orphans in China?
    As my children grew and left home, I also found another niche for my flute skills. A long-time friend is a missionary in China who works with orphaned children in poor villages in rural Henan Province. In the 1990s, the childrens’ peasant farmer parents were enticed to sell their blood for small amounts of cash. The blood drawing equipment was contaminated with the HIV virus, and over 10,000 adults died of AIDS, leaving 2,000 orphaned children, most of whom now live in stark poverty with elderly grandparents. My church had been supporting two of those children with some special funds. In 2007 those funds were depleted, so I offered to organize a flute concert to raise funds to support the two children for another school year. The Madison Flute Choir and the First Flutes, a small group of non-professional flutists I had organized at the church, volunteered to perform. We presented a concert with a variety of classical and Chinese music, including solos, small ensembles, and flute choir numbers. Concert admission was free but we asked for voluntary donations. To our great surprise, we raised enough money to support five children for the next school year. The funds paid for their school, book and dormitory fees, as well as providing funds to purchase adequate clothing, school supplies, a study lamp, and food.
    That summer at the NFA convention, I mentioned the concert to my roommate and former IU colleague, Roberta Brokaw, a retired professor from University of California-Hayward. She had heard about the orphan problem in Henan Province and volunteered to come from California to Wisconsin to play in the concert the next year, and has come in the six successive years. The next concert in 2008 produced funds to support 12 children.
    Then the Wm. S. Haynes Flute Company read about our concerts on the Madison Flute Choir website. Since their CEO is from China, their representative, Jason Blank, contacted me offering to donate a Haynes flute for us to sell for the benefit of the Orphan Project. For the last five years, Haynes has given us a flute or alto flute. That has been a huge boost for the project and allowed us to sponsor as many as 10 additional children each year. When Blank left Haynes and started Green Golly, he carried on the tradition by donating a student model Green Golly flute. What wonderful generosity on the part of these flute companies.
    In the winter of 2009, as I was organizing the third annual concert, I received an email from Alexa Still, then teaching in Australia, asking me when the concert was indicating that maybe she could come. I couldn’t believe it. I had worked closely with Alexa when she was NFA President, but would never have thought she would come to Madison to play in such a small venue. She has been to China several times and has an adopted Chinese daughter and so was very interested in the Orphan Project.
    Alexa’s participation that year gave us lots of publicly and attention. Church members and others were inspired to sponsor individual children and donations came flowing in. Then, when Jonathan Keeble was NFA President, he and I spent a lot of time working on various legal issues together. At one point, he asked what he could do for me in return. Thinking perhaps he would like an invitation to perform at our next orphan concert, I invited him and was delighted when he agreed. He and his harpist partner, Ann Yeung, gave a delightful performance at our 2013 concert. The result of all this is that we currently are supporting more than 90 children. Quite amazing, since I started with the goal of supporting just two orphaned children for one year with no idea that I would grow to what it is today. Many generous flutists have contributed their talents to provide an education and bright future for so many otherwise forgotten Chinese orphans. It’s amazing what one can do with a flute!

    My husband and I will go to China this fall to visit the children for the fourth time. We take the rugged journey by public transportation into the children’s isolated rural villages with a translator from the organizing Chinese charity we work with, Amity Foundation. We are greeted by the children joyously as we deliver small gifts, take photos, and listen to the children’s stories of heartache, grief, discrimination, and survival, all of which we bring back to share on our return. I know, without a doubt, that my flute and I have made a difference in the children’s lives when I feel their hugs and see their tears as they express how their lives have changed with the funds we have provided.
    I am grateful to have had two wonderful professions that have allowed me to reach out and touch others’ lives. I feel doubly blessed.