The same doubts have plagued me as, in the last couple of years, and at a similar age to Vanderbilt, I too have taken up singing. Is it worth investing so much effort in my voice when it will already be succumbing to gentle, age-induced decline? Vanderbilt doesn’t try to gloss the hard facts about learning and ageing – babies learn best of all – but he offers some cautious reasons for hope, and shows that learning at any age is good for you.
He also passes on plenty of good technical advice. For instance, we tend to fixate on the idea of a “high” note as something just that – vertically high – when it is nothing of the sort. So when straining for a “high” note we lift our heads up, tighten our shoulders and even stand on tiptoe, reaching for that note on the ceiling – all things that make it harder to reach. The tongue, Vanderbilt finds, is the singer’s worst enemy because it gets in the way of exhaled breath and sound. So focus on the vowels; vowels are the voice and consonants are its interruption. Even if you’re not a singer, this is all fascinating.