Who but Jeremy Ten could properly pronounce the name of the music for one of Jeffrey Buttle’s memorable routines of years past: Naqoyqats.

The name runs across the tongue of the 24-year-old Vancouver skater with as much ease as if he were uttering: “backward outside death spiral” or “flying camel spin” or “mashed potatoes with garlic bits.” Music is Ten’s lakeside cottage, his refuge, his favourite place. He’s always connected to his music, always listening. Music follows Ten everywhere. Ten follows music.

That’s why it should come as no surprise that Ten, to a large degree, has taken charge of the music that he will use when he competes at the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships next month in Ottawa, in a bid to make the Olympic team. He’s very serious about that goal, indeed, and he’s taking full responsibility for his route there. There are three spots up for the taking. Most people figure three-time world champion Patrick Chan and quad maestro Kevin Reynolds have a lock on the first two. But the scramble is for that third spot, and Ten wants it as much as anybody.

Ten’s short program? He found the music for it. Ten went looking for music scores written by Polish composer Abel Korzeniowski. Who wouldn’t? But seriously, Ten knew the name from the music he used for a short program during the 2010-11 season, when Buttle had choreographed for him. The music back then? Part of the soundtrack from the movie A Single Man. It’s not your garden variety sort of music for a short program. Like Naqoyqats, it’s introspective. Not that easy for a skater to carry off. You need Buttle-like sensitivities for Korzeniowski.

Korzeniowski puts a stamp on anything he writes. His music is bittersweet, melancholic, deeply emotional, and full of breathtaking beauty. He uses repetitive phrases to good effect. Melody is important to him. Classically trained, he pays attention to every note. He’s not the sort of guy who will throw together a basic tune, load magnificent orchestrations on top of it and call it a day. His music is minimalistic, memorable in its powerful simplicity.

So this is the direction that Ten took when he picked out a score written by Korzeniowski for the Madonna-backed movie W.E., about a women who idealizes what she thought was the perfect love between Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII, who abdicated the British throne to marry a divorcee.

“I found this soundtrack and kept listening to two pieces off it and they were both mesmerizing and just really captured everything I wanted to emote as a skater,” Ten said. The track he picked? Dance With Me Wallis.

The feeling of the short is “very hopeful, passionate,” Ten said. “It is very avant garde. It’s kind of calming at the same time….it’s really up my alley.”

Coach Joanne McLeod found the music for Ten’s long program when she undertook a journey through a closet and found a pile of old CDs, some of which she had forgotten about, including Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Variations. She asked Ten to give it a listen. He did on the way home from the rink and immediately fell in love with it. This music offers a more dramatic, theatrical direction, maybe even a little over the top, totally different from the short. Ten says he’s had nothing but good feedback for both programs.

The feedback is even more gratifying, because this time, Ten did not go to the court of Buttle or another of his favourite choreographers, David Wilson to design either of these routines. Instead, Ten did some of it himself, with help from McLeod and dance coach Megan Wing. “It was a unique experience for me to have more of a say in what I wanted to put in or what I wanted to do,” Ten said.

Armed with these programs, Ten has had a good year, finishing third at Nebelhorn Trophy in September, to earn the first international medal of his career, which has been interrupted by injury. “Better late than never,” Ten would say.

He feels like he’s the underdog going into the Canadian championships, although he signalled his intent by winning the short program at the Challenge competition in early December in Regina. “It’s been a while since I’ve been in the hot seat,” he said. That may have thrown him off a little, when he faltered, went back to some old habits and finished fourth overall after the long. But it was a snap, like a dunk of cold water just when he needed it most, perhaps.

“You’ve got to go through that,” said Ten, who feels that he’s a better competitor than he’s been in the past. He doesn’t let small things bother him so much, he said. He has taken more control of his body and his mind.

“I’m the one that’s chasing and attacking for that final spot to the Olympic Games,” he said. “I feel that I have all the tools that are required to make the Olympic team. I’ve been working so hard. I’ve been competing so much better. It’s just keeping that confidence, keeping my head up, and not overthinking things. I’m going to make the most of it.”

Beverley Smith