Music Ministries

The Music of Our Liturgy

Setting Five of the ELW (Evangelical Lutheran Worship)


Regina Fryxell (1899 – 1993), the almost-forgotten composer of liturgical music in the Lutheran Church, was the daughter of a Lutheran Pastor in the (Swedish-American) Augustana Lutheran Church. She earned degrees in English and Music from Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, and studied at the Julliard School of Music, in New York City, under Leo Sowerby, the famed Episcopal Church musician. Regina married Fritiof (pronounced Fritch-off) Fryxell in 1928 and they both taught at Augustana College - he in Geology and she in Music, English and French. Fritiof scaled, and named, most of the Grand Teton Mountains in Wyoming in the 1920’s for the United States Geological Survey. On Sundays, Regina served as a Lutheran church organist.

In 1948, Regina was asked, by the Commission on the Liturgy and Hymnal, to write a setting of the liturgy to be included in the forthcoming Service Book and Hymnal (SBH). Her task was to create a setting expressing the best aspects of the early European Lutheran musical tradition. Her goal was to have Lutherans in North America become aware of their rich musical heritage. She spent ten years researching Lutheran liturgical music traditions. She wrote:

“I have come to the conclusion that we Lutherans, who perhaps have the richest musical heritage of all denominations, have done the least with it, both in respect to using it in our churches, and in drawing inspiration for some real contemporary contribution.”

Her musical adaptations were so well written that Setting II, SBH, was the only musical setting from the SBH to be included in the Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW), Setting III.

In the early 1970’s, she was asked by the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW) to update her setting, adapting it to the modern English liturgical texts, that would be used in the LBW. She accepted but was not given a deadline for her work. During that time her middle son was killed in an automobile accident. She found the same solace in adapting her work for the LBW that she found in creating the original work for the SBH, during which time the oldest of her three sons had died, in the 1950’s.

After Fryxell submitted her work in 1976, she was essentially told by the ILCW that her work was no longer needed. Richard Hillert, who wrote Setting I of the LBW, had adapted Fryxell’s work for the revised texts and had given them a different accompaniment.   No publication credit was given to Fryxell as the source for Setting III of the LBW from its publication in 1978 - until 1993, when her contribution was finally acknowledged. Hillert’s reworking of Fryxell’s compositions, including the organ accompaniment, was so different many congregations that had used Setting II of the SBH gave up trying to use its updated cousin, LBW Setting III.

In 2006 Fryxell’s family was informed that she had never signed a contract for her original work, was never paid any royalties, had not been asked for, or granted, permission for her original work to be modified for use in the LBW. According to the U. S. Copyright Office, Fryxell’s work belongs to her estate.

Fryxell’s revisions, meant for use in the LBW, now appear in the ELW as Setting V (page 158 in the Service section). Page 1170, in the index section of the ELW, clearly recognizes Regina Fryxell, and hence her estate, as the rightful owner of the copyright for ELW Setting V.

As a female composer in the Lutheran church, Regina Fryxell made a significant contribution in the mostly male dominated world of published church music. Her work opened the doors for other women composers. Many people credit her music with strengthening their faith in God. Such is the power and love of music to honor the Glory of God and to help us know where we come from in the Lutheran church. Thanks be to God for such faithful and humble servants of the Lord.

Soli Deo Gloria!


Norm Geist

November 2014

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