For each of the three holiday mornings, Shacharit was co-led by a rabbi and a member of the congregation. The teams rotated between service locations, so we had a different combination every day. The rabbi's role, at this early hour of the marathon, wasn't much more than announcing pages; everything else was done by the hazzan. My favorite was a rabbinic student, a woman with a dark, clear soprano voice who sang as if she was inviting us to join in a dialogue with her best friend. She had the most peaceful expression on her face, almost a smile, her eyes closing occasionally in emphasis or assent. This was not a performance, but rather a personal conversation that we were privileged to witness. I was frustrated when Shacharit ended and the next hazzan took over; I wanted this one to open the door wider so I could get more than just a glimpse of the object of her affection.
The Birkat Ha'shachar, the morning blessings, are sung on Shabbat in a minor key, which has always sounded a little ominous to me, as if we knew the recipient of our thanks wasn't sure of our sincerity. On Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur the blessings become major, a cascade of descending notes that gain momentum and leap into perfect fifths like the swoop of a bird buoyed by a gentle wind. The words are the same as usual, but speak on those days of unqualified gratitude and exultant hope. It's early and the sanctuary is still cool; the tune reminds me of the first days of April, poised between seasons and not yet too warm.
The holiday Shacharit melody stuck in my head like a pop song and kept playing over and over again. I went home and tried to re-create it like I would with "Jet Plane" a few years later, standing in front of the mirror and singing glorious expressions of thanks to my cat.