When he bustles through his final competitive season in the coming months, Jeremy Ten will stand before the Lord of Song with nothing on his tongue but Hallelujah.
Music matters to Ten. And his musical choice for the long program this season is epic; it’s Leonard Cohen’s heart-clutching Hallelujah, music that gets under your skin.
His final season was born of a difficult decision. After two national bronze medals, and nary a trip to the Olympics, Ten had to ponder his future very carefully. He missed the Vancouver Olympics when he was off ice for months because of a bone impingement problem. Then he suffered a spiral fracture of his left tibia in a freak fall. He gathered his forces last year for the run-up to Sochi, and had a wonderful run, with his first international medal (bronze at Nebelhorn), two clean short programs on international ice, and some personal bests. It had taken him two years to get to that heady point. But he finished sixth at the Canadian championships and missed the Russia pilgrimage. What was a 25-year-old guy to do?
At a meeting last summer with Ted Barton, the head of the British Columbia/Yukon Skate Canada section – before Ten even began to train again – was the clincher. “When you look into the future, do you feel that skating one more time in front of a Canadian audience at the national championships is worth it to you – to have the adrenalin, to have that feeling, knowing that as you age, you’ve never going to have that again?” Barton asked him.
That was enough to convince Ten that he felt it was worth it, that he wanted that one last performance. It won’t matter if he doesn’t have a great skate at the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships in Kingston, Ont., come January. All that matters, Ten said, was to enjoy the moment. “All those nationals leading up to this have been about trying to go to an Olympics, or trying to go to worlds, and the pressure to be the top three in Canada,” Ten said. “But for me, this time, I just get to go and enjoy it.”
Ten was asked: “What if you were to win nationals this year and get to go to worlds? What do you do then?” Ten said nothing will change. This is his last season.
His goal this season, he says, is not about placement, but to be the best he can be. He’ll do it for himself. It’s not going to be a timid swan song. He wants to land a quad. He’s never done it before, but he quipped: “An old dog can learn new tricks.” This past summer, he’s been landing quad after quad. Once – and it’s on video – he landed a quad toe loop – triple toe loop. “It feels like such a great jump,” he said. Gone is the worry about risking injury. He finds the jump feels natural – more so than the triple Axel, which he has been doing for years. He started landing them three days after he started to work on them this summer.
Ten had a late start, getting back to training. He’s using his short program music from last season: Dance With Me Wallis, a melancholic piece by Abel Zorzeniowski. It’s a calming piece of music for Ten, who did some of the choreography himself.
The long program choice was terribly important, as his final note to the world. Coach Joanne McLeod recommended K.D. Lang’s version of Hallelujah. Who doesn’t remember Lang in her white suit, singing the song at the Vancouver Olympic closing ceremonies? Ten wasn’t there live, but he’d seen it. And he felt the music’s immensity. At first, he didn’t want to do it. “I thought, oh my gosh, this is such an iconic piece that resonates with so many people, especially in Canada,” Ten said. “For a while, I sat on it, and thought there is no way I can pull this off. It’s so big.”
A friend changed his perspective. “Think of it this way,” the friend said. “‘Titanic’ is an iconic piece. ‘Carmen’ is an iconic piece.” Why should ‘Hallelujah’ be any different?”
So Hallelujah it was. Guaranteed, nobody else has ever skated to it, especially a version with vocals, new this year.
But Jeremy Ten being Jeremy Ten, searched out the music he would use. One day in July, he tweeted a question: your favourite version of the Cohen song? By the end of the day, the top three were K.D. Lang, the late Jeff Buckley and Jason Castro, a charming, dreadlocked contestant on American Idol.
Ten found the beautiful version by Buckley and knew it was right for him. Buckley’s interpretation of it was more introspective and quieter than that of K.D. Lang. After all, he’s been called one of the best songsters of his generation: “a pure drop in an ocean of noise,” Bono once said.
For starters, the Buckley version starts with a breath or a sigh. Beautiful. Then it goes into an instrumental arrangement that Ten uses to get his triple Axel and quad out of the way without distraction. Then the words come (When K.D. Lang was introduced on stage at the Olympics, the emcee called it a song of peace, but it is anything but). The instrumental version returns for Ten’s footwork and then the piece ends with two beautiful, powerful Hallelujahs. It will be memorable, and it’s a clever used of instrumental intertwined with vocals.
“It’s quite something,” Ten said.
Into the rink, Ten will trail the essence of Buckley, whose voice is touched by melancholy. He was the son of renowned U.S. folk singer Tim Buckley, who separated from his mother early on: Buckley died of a drug overdose at age 28, within months of having met his son as a 7-year-old. Jeff and his mother weren’t invited to the funeral. Jeff Buckley released only one album, and was just preparing another when he drowned at age 31 in 1997.
This season, Ten will unleash this gem at the 2014 Autumn Classic International in Barrie, Ontario in October and at Cup of Russia. Getting that Grand Prix assignment was epic, too. “It was a shock,” Ten said.
Ten was visiting friends Asher Hill and Kharis Ralph, the threesome strolling down a street in Toronto, when Ten was alerted by a tweet: “Congratulations on getting Cup of Russia.” Ten stopped dead in his tracks as his friends kept walking. “I got Cup of Russia!” Ten yelled. The three of them started screaming in the street. “It was this great feeling that all the hard work I had done last season really translated into this season,” he said. “the fact that I got a Grand Prix on my own – and didn’t have to go through Skate Canada to get it, was a nice feeling.”
It feels like it’s the right thing to do, Ten concludes about his final-season journey. “It feels like it’s my time,” he said. “I’ve just been enjoying skating, good or bad. I’m just out on the ice, loving it.”