FORG­ING AHEAD

Af­ter be­ing di­ag­nosed with PTSD, for­mer fire­fighter Mark Tedes­chini melds met­al­work and mu­sic to make a new life

Ottawa Magazine - - NEWS - BY PA­TRICK LANGSTON

Af­ter be­ing di­ag­nosed with PTSD, for­mer fire­fighter Mark Tedes­chini melds met­al­work and mu­sic to make a new life

The re­tired City of Ot­tawa fire­fighter lives on a farm out­side Kemptville, where he has trans­formed half of his 19th-cen­tury barn into a met­al­work­ing shop. At its heart is the coal forge, which, fired up, hits over 1,300 de­grees Cel­sius. Mark Tedes­chini spends un­counted hours at that forge, fash­ion­ing from scrap metal the cus­tom fur­ni­ture and iron­works that are the spe­cialty of his busi­ness, 1215 Stu­dios.

The other half of the barn is a mu­sic stu­dio, with Tedes­chini’s Pearl Ref­er­ence drum set hold­ing down cen­tre stage. But even mu­sic leads Tedes­chini back to the heat. “When I sit down to play, I get in­spired to build things,” he says.

Fire — or at least all those decades fight­ing it and wit­ness­ing its grue­some im­pact on peo­ple, pets, and prop­erty — has also left Tedes­chini, 55, with PTSD. It’s a de­bil­i­tat­ing ill­ness, but it’s not what he wants to talk about when we first meet.

In­stead, he leads the way through his shop, past tools and raw ma­te­ri­als and hand-wrought items like whim­si­cal stands for dog dishes, into the quiet of his mu­sic stu­dio.

Part of the mu­sic space is de­voted to so­cial­iz­ing. A cou­ple of com­fort­ably worn couches, end ta­bles that were once drums, and me­dieval-themed wall lights he made in his shop cre­ate a laid-back vibe. The black Labs that are Tedes­chini’s house­mates snooze nearby on the thick-planked floor, echo­ing the re­laxed at­mos­phere.

A bar hugs one wall. It’s fash­ioned with a footrest Tedes­chini made from a chunk of rail­way track — “1903 Ohio Steel Com­pany” is stamped into its side.

Above the sit­ting area is a loft. “It was a mow full of hay when I saw the barn the first time,” he says. And while the build­ing he moved into in 2010 was de­crepit — a tree grew through one part of its

roof — Tedes­chini im­me­di­ately spot­ted its po­ten­tial as the mu­sic stu­dio he’d long wanted. He en­vi­sioned a ver­sion of Levon Helm’s stu­dios in Wood­stock, N.Y., where the late Helm, for­mer drum­mer for The Band, once hosted his leg­endary Mid­night Ram­bles mu­sic ses­sions.

“I came in, looked around, and I said, ‘I don’t care what the house looks like — it’s the barn I want!’ ” he re­calls.

He bought the prop­erty and, with help from his dad, be­gan restor­ing the barn.

While re­con­struct­ing the build­ing, Tedes­chini wrote to Helm’s widow and daugh­ter to let them know he was “do­ing a small ver­sion” of the Wood­stock stu­dio. “They were re­ally thrilled.”

The re­sult of Tedes­chini’s labour is a wel­com­ing, func­tional space that hon­ours its ori­gins: for ex­am­ple, the old marks of an adze are clearly vis­i­ble on the barn’s hand-hewn beams, and Tedes­chini used stones from the sur­round­ing land for in­te­rior ma­sonry work.

The area set aside for mu­sic-mak­ing is in­ti­mate and un­pre­pos­sess­ing. Posters of Ste­vie Ray Vaughan point to Tedes­chini’s fond­ness for blues-rock, while his DVD col­lec­tion in­cludes The Last Waltz, the fa­mous record­ing of The Band’s fi­nal concert, and Jimi Plays Berke­ley, a ter­rific Hen­drix concert doc­u­men­tary from 1970.

On a nearby shelf rest a cou­ple of cen­tury-old mil­i­tary bu­gles and caps. Tedes­chini, in the ea­ger man­ner of one who spends too lit­tle time with oth­ers, ex­plains that the caps and bu­gles once be­longed to his grand­fa­ther, who em­i­grated from Italy to Al­berta, where he headed up a part-time march­ing band.

In build­ing his stu­dio, Tedes­chini says, “I wanted a place where peo­ple would come and sit around, have a beer, walk on the 87 acres to get in­spired.” But his idea, de­spite a sum­mer mu­sic fes­ti­val in Kemptville, sim­ply never caught on.

In fact, Tedes­chini, who played for many years with the pop­u­lar My­ers Broth­ers Band, isn’t even in a group any­more. What prac­tis­ing he does is solo.

Which is also true of his time in the shop, where a sign on the wall says, “One Day at a Time.” It’s a re­minder that, as he later ex­plains, “[PTSD] doesn’t go away. It’s how you man­age each day.”

A self-taught met­al­worker (“YouTube is a real good re­source”), he uses his shop to make lovely ob­jects, in­clud­ing fire­place sets, a towel rack (fash­ioned from an old farm im­ple­ment), and more. The cus­tom

fur­ni­ture is built in col­lab­o­ra­tion with area wood­work­ing busi­nesses Logs to Lum­ber and Her­itage Man­tles.

Scrap­yards are his favourite hunt­ing ground for raw ma­te­rial like the old car springs and bits of farm­ing equip­ment that pep­per his in­ven­tory. “I like the old, pit­ted stuff — you get a nice patina when it’s shined up,” says Tedes­chini. “The guys at the junk­yard say, ‘What do you want that piece of crap for?’ It’s be­cause it has char­ac­ter and a story be­hind it.

“I lived in Italy for a while when I was a teenager,” he con­tin­ues. “I used to go to restau­rants, and there’d be cracks in the ceil­ing and bro­ken bricks, but it was [all] old and it had char­ac­ter. Cer­tain peo­ple ap­pre­ci­ate the older stuff and that it’s not per­fect. If you want per­fect, go to Ikea.”

Although Tedes­chini now ded­i­cates his time to metal, when he was younger, it was all about fire­fight­ing. He comes from a fam­ily of po­lice of­fi­cers and sol­diers, and he be­came a fire­fighter right out of high school. “I wanted to be a fire­fighter from the time I was six. We had a neigh­bour who was a fire­man. It was the smell of the smoky coats and hel­mets that I al­ways loved,” he says. All the same, “I was al­ways into mu­sic and cook­ing. I wasn’t your typ­i­cal fire­man, out hunt­ing and fish­ing.”

But fire­fight­ing can ex­act a toll on any­one, and in 2002, Tedes­chini was di­ag­nosed with PTSD.

“A ther­a­pist told me, ‘When you join [the ser­vice], it’s like you get a bucket. You might add a cup or a gal­lon at a time till it’s full.’ It could be a friend get­ting hurt or dy­ing of can­cer. It’s pulling peo­ple from burn­ing build­ings and maybe they don’t sur­vive or they die in hos­pi­tal later. One day [the bucket was full], and I was ‘Whoa, what’s go­ing on here?’ ”

Tedes­chini did con­tinue work­ing (“My ther­a­pist got me through the last eight years”) and re­tired af­ter 30 years of ser­vice in 2012 with the rank of cap­tain.

Now some days are good, oth­ers rougher. And so he works.

“When I play the drums or work the forge, my mind goes blank. Oth­er­wise, my brain’s a Rolodex of things I saw,” he says.

But he’s quick to add that he’s not court­ing sym­pa­thy and that he wants fel­low PTSD suf­fer­ers or those who care about them to know that some­thing pos­i­tive can still emerge.

“The irony isn’t lost on me that fire is my friend now.”

The beat goes on Mark’s drum set takes cen­tre stage in his mu­sic stu­dio, a a ver­sion of Levon Helm’s stu­dios in Wood­stock, N.Y., where the late Helm once hosted his leg­endary Mid­night Ram­bles ses­sions

Fire and drums A self-taught metal-worker and a ded­i­cated drum­mer, Tedes­chini has ren­o­vated a 19th-cen­tury barn into a work­shop and mu­sic stu­dio, all the while re­spect­ing the build­ing’s ori­gins — and his own. He shares the space with three black Labs

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