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Swissair Band plays on

The Swissair Band plays on with the new "Swiss" airline (www.swissairmusik.ch)

One year after the grounding of the country's former national airline, Swissair Band musicians are still playing on.

The band, founded by Swissair employees in 1958, has performed at hundreds of venues around the world.

Roger Théraulaz, president of the band and an accomplished saxophonist, says rehearsals were squeezed in between shifts during the early years.

"It all started with just a few enthusiastic musicians who wanted to play during their spare time with their Swissair colleagues, so they started to form a little band," Théraulaz told swissinfo.

Humble beginnings

Fellow band member, René Bamert, recalls that in the early days money was tight. "We still have members from that time, and they just used their own instruments and had no real budget," he says.

As the band's fame spread, the Swissair management began to take notice of its budding musicians, and started booking them to perform at airport events in Zurich and Geneva.

"The bosses got behind the band and welcomed it and so we got some help and were even able to rehearse during working hours," says Théraulaz.

Wowing audiences

As the decade of rock-and-roll moved into top gear, the big band ensemble began to perform at concerts and festivals both at home and further afield.

"Over the years, we began to perform internationally, and we had a number of big events overseas in places like Chicago," says Bamert, who plays trombone in the brass section of the band.

Bamert says that while other international airlines enlist the services of an in-house concert band to perform at special occasions, the Swissair Band is unique in the way it has succeeded in building up a reputation for musical excellence away from the airport.

"In Switzerland, we have many active concert bands and we are very popular. Swissair had a good name, and the Swissair Band an even better one," he says proudly.

Swissair goes bust

Switzerland's national airline went bankrupt in 2001 under the weight of massive debt, and for a time the Swissair Band members believed they had played their last tune.

"It was a hard time, especially because members of the band lost their jobs and the atmosphere was very down," recalls Bamert.

"We asked ourselves whether we should continue, but when we questioned all the members practically everybody was behind the band, and so we decided to carry on even though the company was collapsing," he adds.

As chairman of the band, Théraulaz says he felt the burden of responsibility at the time of Swissair's demise.

"It wasn't easy, but it was my duty to keep the band together and convince the members to stay together," he says.

"And I think that whoever makes music knows that a band is what keeps people together, even in bad times, and the fact that we are still here now is the result of all the musicians pulling together."

Rebranding the band

The name Swissair disappeared for good at the end of March, when the regional airline, Crossair, was re-launched as the country's new flag carrier under the "Swiss" brand name.

The band will shortly change its name and logo to match that of the new airline when it re-launches as the Swiss Band later in the year.

"The new management [at Swiss] got in contact with us and were interested in our band, and of course we were ready to change the name," says Bamert.

Théraulaz hopes the airline will offer band members new opportunities to travel and perform abroad - but he also recognises that the rehearsal process is likely to prove more challenging now that many of the musicians are no longer working for the same company.

"Quite a few of the band members were not taken on by Swiss, and have left the airline business altogether, which makes it more difficult to perform, but we are very proud of everybody that they are sticking together."

swissinfo, Ramsey Zarifeh

Swiss band facts

Swissair was founded in 1931 and ceased operations in March 2002.
The name Swissair disappeared forever after the a new carrier was formed around regional airline, Crossair.
The new carrier "Swiss" took to the skies in April 2002.
The Swissair Band held its first rehearsal in 1958 and continues to perform around the world.

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