The cantor had mentioned, weeks earlier, that those of us who never led services before would get to practice on a Saturday morning. Shacharit during the summer attracts a sparse crowd, relatively speaking--200 instead of 500+--an imposing sea of faces nevertheless. Shabbat prayers were similar to what I was learning, with some different tunes I had known for years. But the summer was half over, and I hadn't heard anything further... I knew I'd have to lead, but imagined it happening in some impossible future, weeks and weeks away.
I walked into services the following Shabbat and, lo and behind, there was the pop singer at the bima next to the rabbi. I suddenly got nervous; that could--would--be me. He looked very intense and cool, trading prayers, alternating verses, jumping in after the keyboard intro--and sometimes not. It seemed that the rabbi and cantor were waiting for him to start, but when a barely perceptible moment passed and he didn't, they sang the line instead. Once or twice he did come in, but stumbled after few words. Was he supposed to sing those sections? Did he miss the cue? Was there a cue? I didn't catch any overt signals, and deconstructing the situation seemed impossible without watching an instant replay. But, overall, I thought he sounded pretty good. To maintain one's composure at all when singing in front of the congregation and in close proximity to awe-inspiring clergy struck me as an enormous accomplishment, and I had no idea how I would duplicate the feat.
I went up and congratulated him at the end of services. He wasn't happy. He had one rehearsal with the rabbi, and they figured out how to divide the prayers, but he ran out of practice time the week before and didn't feel prepared. He'd get to do it again in a few weeks after, he hoped, some more rehearsals.
OK, I thought; this doesn't look easy, but I'll be fine, with enough lead time. I still didn't know when my assigned Shabbat would be, but there weren't many choices left.