A Big Hand for the SAP Big Band

Anyone who’s ever seen the SAP Big Band perform live knows its rich sound and musical power. But who are the people who bring the music to life?

The year was 1996 when Edda Seitz, new on the job at SAP, posted an advert: “Wanted: Big Band”. The saxophone enthusiast never could have guessed it at the time, but those few short words were the start of a 20-year success story.

“A lot of different musicians responded to the ad, but no one knew of any Big Bands, so I thought, why don’t we just form our own?” she recalls.

With many of the original musicians still on board, today’s ensemble sees itself almost as family, or at least as “very good friends,” percussionist Oliver Barthe explains. Trombone player Helmut Glänzer agrees. He values the mutual trust between the band members and the personal relationships that have grown from their shared hobby.

“In the end, though, it’s all about the music. Playing in a band together is what motivates us and keeps us together,” says Helmut.

So it’s no surprise that the group has total commitment when it meets for practice this and every Wednesday evening. The band members trickle in gradually, greet those already present, and exchange a few pleasantries. Oliver sets up his drums, others take their instruments lovingly out of their cases. The general atmosphere is calm; you can feel the musicians slowly unwind from the hectic working day as they start preparing themselves mentally for the music.

“That’s not always easy when you’ve still got a lot of stress in your bones,” notes Ralf Hübel, who plays trumpet and knows from experience how important a relaxed posture is for the correct breathing technique. He’s one of the co-founders of the band who also looks after the management side of things.

Still, everyone knows that their conductor Thomas Siffling expects them – just like the pros – to be 100% focused when he raises that baton. A renowned jazz trumpeter and professional musician in his own right, Thomas has been the band’s musical mastermind for the past 15 years now.

It is Thomas who constantly seeks out new challenges for his musicians: “It’s always been my goal to be the best amateur Big Band in the region. And I’d say, we are,” he declares. While harmony may be the goal of the music, things aren’t always so harmonious during practice. “It’s just like any other relationship, you have ups and you have downs,” he admits, “But this is work in progress, and it’s very interesting for me to be part of this progress.”

Indeed, the ambitious artists have been very successful under his leadership. The Big Band presents a new program each year. With  a colorful repertoire ranging from Latin, rock, funk, and pop, to swing, jazz, and vocal jazz, it has made a name for itself both regionally and beyond and appears at large festivals. Given that the word “SAP” is part of its official name, it’s also become something of a poster child for the company as well.

Their performances frequently feature celebrity guests – including, most recently, jazz singers Pe Werner and Marc Marshall at the Big Band birthday concert in July. “Our concerts are huge highlights for us, and we are very proud to be able to give a concert for our SAP colleagues every year,” says Ralf. The band begins to play, its enthusiasm contagious; captivated by the ebullient Big Band sound, the prominent artists, and the impressive solos, the audience in the SAP cafeteria in Walldorf is hooked.

So what makes the Big Band such a successful work of art? Years of hard work, tough rehearsals, and a shared passion for music. Siffling puts it in a nutshell: for him, the Big Band is all about “energy, tradition, and lovely people.”