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Flutist Soothes Life’s Troubles With Music

Flutist Soothes Life’s Troubles With Music

The lithe, elegant woman sits perched on the edge of her chair, her dark hair hanging to her waist and thick, exotic liner circling her eyes. Through the front window of her Half Moon Bay bungalow, she watches the ocean’s waves crash on the rocks and wild flowers sway gracefully in the breeze. She brings her bass flute to her pursed lips and begins to play a deep, moving rendition of “Amazing Grace.”

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound.

It’s been a long, physically painful road to the peaceful happiness Viviana Guzman enjoys now. But through it all, the sweet sound of the flute has been her amazing grace.

“It’s very pretty, it’s very beautiful, it’s very soothing,” she said of her beloved instrument. “And it can be very haunting, very melancholy, very profound.”

The beauty and profundity will be on display tomorrow when Guzman and her international music group, “Performers of the World,” present “The Music of Passion: from Tango to Flamenco” at The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society in Half Moon Bay.

Guzman was born 31 years ago in the small town of Concepcion in southern Chile. Nobody noticed she had no hip sockets until the other babies her age started walking and she didn’t. Doctors in town couldn’t help her so the family moved to the Bay Area and then Texas, always searching out the best doctors and the most modern treatments.

It was a trying childhood, full of scars, crutches, wheelchairs, body casts and traction. Kids at school teased her for walking like a penguin. She spent much of her time in hospitals and underwent 10 operations.

Her home life, though, was much happier, largely because of the music frequently floating through the rooms and halls. She and her younger sister loved the tangos their mom played on her accordion. The two young girls took up the instrument, even playing a duet in a music competition at a local pizza parlor.

“They won first prize and we were eating pizza for weeks!” their proud mom, Clara Guzman, 60, of Monterey, recalls. “This was her saying, ‘I’m very bad at walking and I cannot take part in sports, but this is something I can do.’ ”

Viviana took up the piano when she was 7. At 10, she started playing the clarinet in the school orchestra. But the clarinet proved too clunky for the fragile girl to lug around so she decided on something lighter: the flute.

“It was such a small, portable instrument and to this day, I’m so thankful for that. I can play anywhere,” she says. “And it just seemed more feminine than playing the clarinet.”

At 13, she won the Houston Youth Symphony Competition, with the prize being a ticket to the Aspen Music Festival. She still remembers meeting violinist Itzhak Perlman at an ice cream shop. She loved her summer at the festival so much, she practiced hard enough to win the prize for the next five years.

She graduated from Rice University with a bachelor’s degree in music in 1989 and from Juilliard with a master’s degree in music three years later. She played with John Denver, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Placido Domingo and Glenn Close.

Seeking respite from hectic Manhattan, she moved to Half Moon Bay, where she lived in a yurt before settling in her small, comfy home. She joined the Festival of Four, a group of three guitar players and herself.

Through that connection, she got a job playing her flute on luxury cruise lines. She takes five two-week journeys each year.

On one cruise, she met her husband, Imre Kovacs, a native of Hungary. They officially married on a ship in the Atlantic Ocean, halfway between Chile and Hungary. They held their wedding ceremony in a castle in Budapest. On Guzman’s travels, she collects flutes — and now has more than 100 sitting in baskets around her home.

In 1997, she established Performers of the World, a group of local musicians — including her accordionist mom — that plays international music. (“It’s a Yanni type ensemble — Yanni or John Tesh,” she said.)

Guillermo Garcia, 36, of Sunnyvale, plays his tango guitar in the group. He says Guzman’s upbeat nature keeps the other members relaxed on stage.

“She’s an outstanding musician with an outstanding technique,” he said. “She knows her instrument very well and brings all her classical training to the popular music.”

Her artistic pursuits also include poetry — her book, “A Flutists’ Love Soliloquies in IV Movements,” will be released this fall by New World Press. She’s released three CDs: Planet Flute, Danza de Amor and Telemann Flute Fantasies.

In her spare time, she plays her flutes at local community centers.

“The flute inspires love in people, or at least kindness or goodness,” Guzman said. “There’s so much music out there that does the opposite.”

The flute, too, has encouraged her to devote herself wholeheartedly to recovering from her array of medical procedures. She had her 10th surgery in 1999 at Stanford Medical Center. With rigorous physical therapy, she finally walks — and dances — freely. She’s always loved belly dancing and now can do it without taking several Advils beforehand.

“For the first time in my life, I’m pain free and limp free,” she said. “I feel like it’s a totally new life now.”

Flutist Viviana Guzman and Performers of the World will present “The Music of Passion: From Tango to Flamenco” at 8 p.m. tomorrow at the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, Miramar Beach, Half Moon Bay. $20. (650) 726-4143., www. bachddsoc.org., For more information on Guzman, visit www.viviana.org.