Columbia, SC (WLTX) -- Maestro Donald Portnoy has been a large part of the University of South Carolina's symphony orchestra for more than three decades, but on Tuesday night, he picked up his baton for the final time.

"It's been 31 years, but it feels like yesterday. My swan song. My grand finale," said Portnoy.

As he walked on stage for the final time, he received a standing ovation from the audience.

"If I would have known leaving would have gotten that kind of reception, I would have left...thank you so much," he said to the crowd before the concert started.

The evening also included some nostalgic moments, as former orchestra members joined Portnoy on stage for his final concert. The former musicians came to Columbia from all over the country, including Texas and California. Cindy Bryan was a freshman at USC in 1986, the same year Portnoy began his career.

"To be able to play in his first and last concert, it's just a thrill," she said.

"I think I've had some effect on them when they were here, so they say. They're appreciative of what I did for them and that makes me feel good. When you're a teacher, that's the most you can hope for," said Portnoy.

But to his former students, he was more than just a teacher.

"He was like a father to me. It was more than just making me aware of doing things for myself," said Neil Casey.

Portnoy is stepping down from the orchestra, but he isn't saying goodbye. He will continue to teach conducting and violin classes, as well as directing the Conductors Institute of South Carolina at USC.