Jean M. Fearnow (1936-2022)

Jean M. Fearnow, who for years was the Richmond area’s leading advocate for early music, has died at 86.

Fearnow, a singer from childhood (a charter member of the Red Feather Girls, who gave benefit concerts for the charity that became the United Way), worked with her late husband, Edgar B. Fearnow, in renovating historic houses in Richmond’s Church Hill neighborhood. That work “must have inspired me to get into historic preservation of music,” she said in a 1992 interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

After studying early music and its vocal and instrumental techniques locally and in summer workshops at Dominican College in San Francisco, Fearnow organized two ensembles, the Finnsbury Minstrel Guild and Coventry Consort, which introduced several generations of Richmonders to live performance of Renaissance and early baroque music, played on instruments of those periods.

Her home in Richmond’s Northside became a repository of pre-modern instruments such as the psaltery, hurdy gurdy, otttavina and crumhorn, and scores of the music played on them.

Her ensembles played regularly in the Richmond Public Library’s Gellman Room concert series and at hospitals, schools and other venues, sometimes in re-creations of the balls, pageants and processionals for which early instrumental music was created.

Fearnow also served for 25 years as artist in residence in the Richmond Public Schools.

“We don’t just teach music. We teach history,” she said in the 1992 interview. “Once you’ve heard Shakespearean English sung and played, it’s that much easier to understand Shakespeare as spoken drama.”