The primary sound of Elul is the shofar, which we blow every morning this month to herald the coming of the New Year.
The next sound is that of Psalm 27, which we recite every morning and evening to help us with heshbon ha-nefesh.
There are two widespread melodies for the fourth verse of this Psalm, Ahat sha-alti. One is upbeat, joyous, and a bit silly. The other is somber, reflective, and pleading. What's wrong with this picture?
Is Elul a month of celebration or introspection? Joy or sadness?
Perhaps it's both. On the one hand, we are gearing up emotionally for the Aseret Yemei Teshuvah, the Ten Days of Repentance that include Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, by cautiously taking spiritual inventory, by weighing our deeds, by reviewing our behavior. On the other, we are looking forward optimistically to being given that seat in God's palace, to celebrating Sukkot, the most joyous holiday of the Jewish calendar, with abandon.
So yes, the sense is that lives hang in the balance, and so we chant with heavy hearts and minds. But we are also hoping for the best, and singing joyously about the reward - the cleansing that comes with teshuvah / repentance.
We should sing both melodies, joyous and mournful, with a full heart.