LARGO — She fell in love with music in 1974 when she began to play the bassoon. He fell in love with it in 1975 when he learned the cello, but his passion grew stronger two years later when he was introduced to the French horn.
In 1999, the two band directors fell in love with each other.
Chris Benoit has been the band and orchestra director at Largo High School since 1989. Just a mile down the road, Robin Benoit is in her 13th year as band director at Largo Middle.
"Our first date was after the Pinellas County Music Educators banquet in March of 1999,'' said Chris, 46.
Robin, 49, recalls: "We were really good friends by that point. I remember thinking that he was acting really weird when he asked me to go to the movies. Now the rest is history.''
Since becoming husband and wife in 2000, the pair have ushered hundreds of students through the two schools' band programs.
Robin concentrates on the fundamentals — how to read music and understanding what it takes to play music as a group.
About 85 percent of her band students at Largo Middle move on to Largo High's band program as freshmen, where Chris leads them through the more advanced stages. He hopes that by graduation, they will "want to continue developing their music independently without the teachers.''
It's a marriage of best friends who also live and breathe their careers, said Robin.
They both admit to being Type A personalities.
"You need to be Type A as a band director, because you need firm direction from the podium,'' Chris said.
About once a week, Chris heads down to the middle school on Eighth Avenue to work with his wife's young students. "I think it gives both the students and myself a chance to get acquainted," he said.
And on Feb. 11 and 12, during the District Solo and Ensemble Festival at Gibbs High, the Benoits watched their younger students mingle with the high schoolers. "It's nice that they had a chance to see what they can become,'' said Robin.
Kathie Regan's daughter, Shibovan Regan, is a Largo High senior who performed a flute solo at the Gibbs event. The high schooler received a superior rating and will now go to the State Solo and Ensemble in March in Orlando.
Regan says the Benoits' teamwork has taken her daughter to "a higher level.''
"When Shibovan was 18 months old, she'd listen to the Largo High School band from our front yard and I remember telling her that someday she'd be in that band,'' Regan said. "And once she started playing, back with Mrs. B in middle school, she definitely was strongly influenced by her teacher's love of music. And now with Mr. B, through the theory aspects, she's been nurtured even more. She's learning the fine nuances.''
When they were married in 2000 at Church of the Isles on Indian Rocks Beach, each of the Benoits brought two children from previous marriages into the mix. They include Robin's daughter, Sarah Ware, 22, and son, Ryan Ware, 19, as well as Chris' two sons, Jeffrey, 16, and Philip, 13.
Robin says that over the years, her husband has helped improve her game. "From day one, he's helped me become a better band director with all he knows.''
As for Chris, he has realized "the students don't care what you know until they know that you care. She's taught me more ways to show the kids that I care about them.''
And what about the students? Do they like the arrangement?
Shibovan Regan remembers being concerned that her high school band director might be privy to some insider information.
"I think Mrs. Benoit probably told him that I was a strong player, but that I talked,'' she said. "But I've worked through it. I've proven myself, and it's all good.''
Piper Castillo is reachable at firstname.lastname@example.org.