The Team

Executive Board and Founding Members

Michael Rogers

Creative Director & Founding Benefactor

Raised in Duxbury, MA, Michael “Mike” Rogers began formal training in classical piano at the age of five, winning a piano competition at age nine at Carnegie Hall. Mike received his Bachelor’s degree in Music and Film from Wesleyan University. Mr. Rogers also received an internship to Robert Redford’s Sundance Film Studio in Utah. While teaching elementary and middle school music, he built his first studio / teaching facility. During this time, he created the first Dueling Piano show in Salt Lake City and opened a school to teach these skills to aspiring practitioners of this popular entertainment. Mike received his Masters in Music from the University of Utah. Along with his dream of opening FSCA, Mr. Rogers brings a lifetime of teaching and performing skills.

Nathan Halbrook

Founding Benefactor

A graduate of Quinnipiac University, Nate bought his first vinyl record in 1980, Rush’s FLY BY NIGHT. After great success in real estate, Mr. Halbrook has been a private investor for twenty-two years with multiple investments in the Sunset Beach area. His deep passion for music and live performance has led him to FSCA. He is grateful and excited for the opportunity to launch and transform FSCA into a world-class arts destination.

Nate was the original benefactor that allowed FSCA to come to fruition, without his gracious donation of time, equipment, funding, FSCA wouldn’t be where it is today. We thank him for his generosity and bequeathment to Free Spirit.

Leanora Saunders

Executive Director

Leanora Saunders has assumed the position of Executive Director, bringing an
exceptional blend of expertise, dedication, and commitment to our organization.
With an impressive background spanning 23 years as a surgical intensive care
float pool nurse, Leanora has honed her skills working in top-tier trauma units
across the country. Her invaluable experience equips her to adeptly navigate
various situations that may arise. Moreover, Leanora’s extensive festival
management expertise at the board level and her successful management of
medical tents at large events have solidified her reputation as a dynamic and
results-driven leader. Leanora has shown her commitment to the cause through
substantial monetary contributions and volunteering 50 to 70 hours a week since
January of this year. We are thrilled to have her leading Free Spirit Conservatory
of the Arts with passion and expertise, ensuring its continued growth and success.

Matt Cothran

President & Chairman

Matt joined Free Spirit as our President and Chairman of the Board. With an unwavering commitment to community service, he has been a catalyst for change, contributing to multiple non-profits in the music and community sectors.

With decades of experience in both volunteer and executive roles, Matt embodies the essence of Free Spirit’s founding principles, illuminating the path forward with wisdom gained from years of dedicated service.

Beyond his remarkable leadership, Matt boasts a diverse background encompassing an impressive array of skills, from programming and audio technology to networking, design & development, videography & editing, and all things technology. His insatiable hunger for mastering emerging hardware and software ensures that Free Spirit stays at the forefront of innovation.

From his early days attending live blues shows with his father and supporting acts via live sound reinforcement across various genres like Country Western, EDM, Hip Hop, Blues, Jazz, and beyond, music has been the heartbeat of Matt’s journey. With over 25 years of experience in live sound, his passion for music fuels the very soul of Free Spirit’s mission.

As the beacon of inspiration for Free Spirit’s future, Matt’s story resonates deeply, uniting us all in the pursuit of artistic freedom and transformative community impact.

Paul Barrett

Music School Director

Paul Barrett is an active composer, guitarist, educator and studio musician. He has extensive performance experience and has arranged and collaborated with a host of other creative talents for youth theater, performance venues and festivals. He has appeared on several podcasts advocating the importance of performance and music education.

Growing up on Long Island, New York, Paul was taught the importance of the arts from a young age. He started playing guitar at the age of 13 and committed to his musical training in high school as a jazz guitar student at BOCES cultural arts center. Continuing his education at Five Towns College as a Jazz Commercial Music and Audio Technology major, Paul solidified his love for improvisational music.

“It’s hard for me to explain what it is that I love about music. I wasn’t the most social kid growing up and I always found my words falling short. When I found music it was the first time I felt I could really express myself. It gave me a voice. My goal as a teacher has always been to help my students find the same love and appreciation for music that I found, and most importantly, to have fun doing it. My goal remains the same as the music director of FSCA.”

Ron Johnson

Vice President & Audio Engineer

Ron’s profound impact on the artistic landscape led to his appointment as Vice President of the Free Spirit Conservatory of the Arts. With boundless enthusiasm and a visionary spirit, he spearheads initiatives to expand the conservatory’s offerings, providing aspiring artists with unparalleled opportunities for growth and self-discovery. Ron’s dedication to preserving artistic freedom and nurturing talent shines through as he crafts a curriculum that honors tradition while embracing innovation.

Ron’s journey as a producer and engineer expanded horizons for numerous artists seeking to bring their creative visions to life. His studio became a haven for innovation, where he tirelessly worked to achieve the perfect fusion of sound and emotion. By weaving technical expertise with artistic sensitivity, Ron elevated musical projects to ethereal heights, imprinting his signature touch on every note.

As the illustrious owner of The Star Tavern, Ron Johnson created more than just a live music venue; he fashioned a sanctuary for aspiring artists to thrive. The Star became a hallowed ground where melodies soared and hearts were moved, nurturing a close-knit community of musicians, poets, and storytellers. Ron’s commitment to supporting emerging talents has made The Star a springboard for countless artists to launch their careers and find their voice on the grand stage of life.

Beyond the limelight, Ron Johnson’s heart beats for the empowerment of creative souls. He serves as a mentor, guiding emerging musicians through the intricacies of the industry, imparting wisdom, and kindling the flames of artistic brilliance. Ron’s benevolent spirit transcends music, inspiring his students to discover their true selves and embrace their unique artistic expression fearlessly.

Jean O'Brien-Meyer

Board Secretary

Jean O’Brien-Meyer grew up in Northern New Jersey and moved to Carolina Shores in 2019.

Over the years she has developed an extensive background in corporate management, including 10 years working on Wall Street for a banking consortium as an Associate in the Corporate Finance department. After that, she dedicated 28 1/2 years to Rhone-Poulenc/Rhodia, which was later acquired by Solvay. During her time there she spent two years working on the corporate SAP integration project. Her last position was as supervisor of the Novecare business unit’s back office.

Jean attended Northeastern University and The School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts. Although not a musician or performer, she loves all aspects of music, theatre, art and dance. Jean’s insights are invaluable, and her background lends itself to maintaining our successful continued daily operations.

Music and Audio Production Instructors

Michael Rogers

Piano • Organ • Guitar • Bass • Mandolin • Ukelele • Trombone • Beginner Drums • Harmonica • Suzuki Ear Training • Digeridoo • Circular Breathing

Michael (Mike) Rogers is trained in a variety on musical instruments and teaching methods. His day to day duties at FSCA keep him busy, but he is available sporadically for lessons.

Paul Barrett

Guitar • Bass • Basic Theory • Ear Training • Intro to Jazz Improv • Ensembles

Paul Barrett is an active composer, guitarist, educator and studio musician. He has extensive performance experience and has arranged and collaborated with a host of other creative talents for youth theater, performance venues and festivals. He has appeared on several podcasts advocating the importance of performance and music education.

Ron Johnson

Pro Tools • Intro to Audio Technology • Audio Engineering


Lou Balascio

Piano • Ensemble

Lou Balascio is a highly experienced musician with a professional music career that started at the age of 15. He has toured the USA and abroad with road acts in the 80s and 90s, working with notable agencies such as Richard Nader, Hal Prince, Wayne Marshall, Steven Scott, Hank Lane, and Craig Scott. He did session work for many NY studios. Lou has also worked in the pit for many musical theater performances and played in support acts for Southern Rock bands, including The Outlaws, 38 Special, Marshall Tucker Band, New Riders of the Purple Sage, the Allman Brothers, Artimus Pyle/Lynyrd Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet, and others. He played for over twenty years in the Craig Scott agency band & Phase One and is frequently known to sub into bands at a moments notice.

Lou’s musical education includes an Associate Degree in Jazz Performance, and he is one year away from completing his BMU in Music Education at the Manhattan campus of Nyack College. He has been teaching music privately for over thirty-five years, specializing in various styles of music such as Rock, Jazz, Classical, Alternative, Contemporary, Broadway/Theater, and Pop.