It had been more than a year since Steven Lee Bingham had conducted the concert.
The Santa Fe College band director last led the annual Winds and Classics concert in Fall 2013, celebrating the band he had help grow since his arrival in 2005.
Then, in March 2014, Bingham began his battle with cholangiocarcinoma cancer, cancer in the bile duct, and was forced to watch performances from his hospital bed as he recovered from surgery and later complications.
But Thursday night Bingham took to the stage, cancer-free, in the Fine Arts Hall at Santa Fe and conducted the Winds and Classics concert. Donning a tuxedo, he led the band once again, conducting seven songs all written by American composers.
While the theme changes every year, Bingham selected music by American band composers for his return to the stage because it fit his students.
"It’s always different because you’re working with different kids and different strengths," he said. "That’s what makes choosing the music and finding a theme so difficult — because students’ strengths change differently semester from semester."
As the 32 students performed pieces written by composers such as John Philip Sousa, the audience applauded and gave the performers a standing ovation after the final number, a medley of John Williams pieces.
For Stephen Panella, 20, the successful performance was in part because of Bingham’s return to the stage.
"It was definitely hard not having him here," said the Santa Fe music composition junior and clarinetist. "But since he’s been back, it just has taken off again. It’s just been awesome."
For many in the audience, the concert wasn’t just about the music.
It was music in the face of a recent tragedy and music in the face of a recent recovery.
After the show, Bingham acknowledged not only his cancer survival but the death of 10 students in a shooting earlier Thursday at Oregon’s Umpqua Community College.
"I’m sorry that the events of earlier today kind of put all this in perspective," Bingham said. "We have an opportunity to get together and make music, but wow, here’s... individuals that won’t have that opportunity anymore."
A single lit candle sat on an empty chair as the band played "Tribute," written by David Gorham in memoriam of the lives lost. After the song’s conclusion, there was a moment of silence before chimes rang out in the auditorium.
"I know that hit close to my student’s home and me," Bingham said. "Because we’re in a community college, too."
But even in the wake of tragedy there was still positivity and the promise of continued growth and recovery at Santa Fe.
For Bingham’s family, what mattered was seeing him conduct on stage again.
"Incredible," said Trudy Bingham, the conductor’s wife. "It was incredible, especially for ‘America the Beautiful.’"
His father, Hal Bingham, said it was a miracle his son was able to conduct.
"Trudy and I both agree that he looked sharp," Hal said.
Bingham said he will now look forward to the rest of the band’s season.
"I’m very excited to be back and around my students," he said. "It sure does beat the alternative."
Steven Bingham conducts the Santa Fe wind and percussion ensemble at the ninth annual Winds and the Classics concert in the Santa Fe College fine arts hall Oct. 1, 2015. The ensembles played a variety of songs including the Washington Post March, America the Beautiful and a tribute to David Gorham.
Steven Bingham conducts the Santa Fe wind and percussion ensemble in the Winds and the Classics concert in the Santa Fe College fine arts hall Oct. 1, 2015.
A flautist performs in the "Winds and the Classics" concert at Santa Fe College on Oct. 1, 2015.
Clarinetists perform in the "Winds and the Classics" concert at Santa Fe College on Oct. 1, 2015.