Sue Boyd Price, SMPI Administrator


Ellen ElderDr. Ellen Elder (SMPI Director)—Dr. Ellen Price Elder is Assistant Professor of Piano at the University of Southern Mississippi, where she teaches applied piano to graduate and undergraduate piano majors, teaches class piano, and collaborates with faculty and guest artists.  In addition to her college teaching, Dr. Elder also serves as founder and director of the Southern Miss Piano Institute. 

She holds the D.M.A. in Piano Pedagogy and Performance and the M.M. in Piano Performance and Literature from the University of Michigan.  She received her B.M. in Piano Performance from the University of Southern Mississippi.  She has served on the faculties of the University of Michigan, the University of Michigan-Dearborn, Eastern Michigan University, Schoolcraft College, and William Carey University.  She has taught on the summer piano faculties of the University of Michigan All-State Program at Interlochen and the University of Michigan Summer Arts Institute.

Dr. Elder is the winner of many competitions and awards, both for solo performance and teaching.  She was the first place winner of the Ann Arbor Society for the Musical Arts Competition and the Lansing Matinee Musicale Competition, and second place winner of the Memphis International Beethoven Sonata Competition.  She was the recipient of the MTNA Star Award, as well as the Joanne A. Smith Piano Pedagogy Award for class piano teaching (for two consecutive years).  In 2009, she was selected to receive the HEADWAE Award (Higher Education Appreciation Day/Working for Academic Excellence) established in 1988 by the Mississippi Legislature to honor faculty who have contributed to the promotion of academic excellence at each of the state's public and private institutions. 

She has appeared as soloist with the University of Southern Mississippi Symphony Orchestra, Mississippi Symphony Orchestra, the Mississippi Symphony Chamber Orchestra, and the Hattiesburg City Band.  She has also performed with the University of Southern Mississippi Symphony Orchestra and the University of Michigan Philharmonia Orchestra, as winner of the concerto competitions at those institutions.  She is in demand as an adjudicator and clinician throughout the southeastern United States and beyond.  Dr. Elder is an active member of the local and state music teacher organizations, and currently serves as Immediate Past President of the Mississippi Music Teachers Association.


Jairo GarciaJairo Garcia—Colombian pianist, Jairo Garcia, started his piano training in 2001.  In 2005 he enrolled in the University of Antioquia, where he graduated with his bachelor of music degree, studying with the renowned Colombian pianist Teresita Gomez.

In 2012 he earned a scholarship to start a masters degree in piano performance at Central Michigan University, where he was a student of Dr. Alexandra Mascolo-David.  In 2015 he earned a full assistantship from The University of Southern Mississippi to pursue a second masters degree under the tutelage of Dr. Ellen Elder.

Mr. Garcia has performed as a soloist and accompanist both in Colombia and the United States.  He has participated in the premiere of several works, including Homenajes, Suite in Eight Movements and Epilogue for Twenty-Two Pianos by Catalan composer Moisès Bertran, commissioned by the Universidad de Antioquia and premiered on the University campus in 2010.  In April 2017 he participated in the premiere of the Symphony No. 2 (“Pas de Deux”) for trombone, clarinet, and band by Alan Theisen, commissioned for the wind ensemble of The University of Southern Mississippi.  With the same wind ensemble, in 2015, he recorded a compact disc for the Naxos label with works by D. Maslanka, J. Schwanter, and S. Bryant.  Along with his performing experience, Jairo has developed a pedagogical career both in Colombia and the United States.  In Colombia he has worked as a piano instructor at the Universidad de Antioquia and Amadeus Music School.  In the United States he has served as a piano instructor and accompanist during his time in Michigan and he is currently a piano instructor at Bass Memorial Academy in Mississippi.


Valerica MullerValerica Muller began studying piano at the age of 4 years old at “Lycee Dimitrie Cuclin” in the city of Galati, located on the east side of Romania, with the influence of her father, who was himself a musician.  She won several prestigious awards in Europe, including two music and arts Olympiads.  Upon graduation with a degree in piano performance and teaching, she moved to Vicenza, Italy, where she taught piano for four years.  In 2007 she moved to Bamberg, Germany, where she led the development of the first piano class to be taught in the “SKIES Unlimited” programs.  In January 2012, she won the first prize in the Fayetteville, North Carolina Piano Festival. 

She received her Bachelor of Science in Music Education with a concentration in keyboard from Fayetteville State University in May 2017, under the guidance of Dr. Amanda Virelles.  She also served on the piano faculty of the Snyder Music Academy in Fayetteville.  This fall she will begin a masters degree in piano performance at USM.  In the future she plans to continue her graduate studies and teach piano at the collegiate level. 

Ms. Muller is past president of the Fayetteville Piano Teachers Association, and an active member of the Music Teachers National Association.