Simplified Level Up

December 25th, 2022
music, solstice
Vienna Teng's Level Up is a great song, but when we wanted to use it in our secular solstice (retrospective) it wasn't going to work as-is. The problem is she's a professional singer performing a piece she knows well, while we're a crowd of amateurs most of who haven't heard the song before let alone sung it.

Some aspects of the song that make it tricky to pick up on the fly:

  • Most of the words are pickups.
  • The lines don't start on a consistent beat.
  • Sections have small differences each time they're repeated.
  • It's not square.

Additionally, the sung portion ends with a build and the song's conclusion is instrumental, which is not satisfying for group singing.

Alex and I made some changes to get it to work better in our context, and while they make it a worse performance song I think they're a good compromise for group singing that keeps a lot of what makes the song worth singing. Here are the words and chords we figured out:

so come out.
been waiting long enough.
                         C                                       G
you're done with all the talk talk talk with nothing on the table.
it's time to come on out.
no sign from above.
                     C                                            G
you'll only hear the knock knock knock of your own heart as signal.

           Em      D    C
if you are afraid, come forth.
            Em    D    C
if you are alone, come forth now.
          Em   D   C     Bm  D
everybody here has loved and lost,
[pause] so level up and love again.

begin again.
blast the dam on the flow.
                    C                                   G
your body feels the tock tock tock of time as it hammers.
lord we are all cinders
from a fire long ago,
                   C                                               G
but here it is the knock knock knock of your own heart that matters.

           Em      D    C
if you are afraid, come forth.
            Em    D    C
if you are alone, come forth now.
          Em   D   C     Bm   D
everybody here has seams and scars,
[pause] so level up and feel again.

            C   D  G
and this is all we need.
            C     D   G
and this is where we start.
            C   D  G
this is the day we greet.
            C    D  G
this is the day, no other.

call it any name you need.
call it any name you feel.
             C                          G
call it your 2.0, your rebirth, whatever.
if you can feel it all,
with your doors flung wide.
             C                               G
call it your day no. 1 in the rest of forever.

            Em     D    C
if you are afraid, give more.
            Em    D    C
if you are alive, give more now.
          Em   D   C     Bm   D
everybody here has seams and scars.
[pause] so level up and live again.

Here's a rough recording of how we did it at our gathering. Note that the accompanist (me...) is rushing, and the initial tempo (85-90bpm) is a good speed.


I got a lot of very positive feedback on this song, and I think it was people's favorite from the evening.

Since making that recording I've tweaked the chorus not to use "love" every time, with "feel" and "live" on later times through. So many songs are about love, and while this song does cover love it covers a wider range of human experience and it's better if the chorus reflects that.

The place where I'm least happy with this adaptation is that it drops the slow first half of the bridge:

let your faith die.
bring your wonder.
yes, you are only one.
no, it is not enough
but if you lift your eyes, I am your brother.

These are great words, but the way the original song places them, especially the first two lines with one hard-to-predict note on each, wouldn't work in this context. If anyone has ideas on how to fit this in without making the song much harder to sing along to on the fly I'd love to hear it!

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