CHICAGO — Eric Leonardson believes you can't hear if you never truly listen.
Leonardson is the founder of Soundwalks in the Parks in Chicago, which asks participants to stop talking, texting and checking Facebook for 45 minutes while walking around numerous city parks.
"After you've been on a soundwalk, you'll feel like you've been on a break — a break in the routine of your life, and you might feel a little recharged," said Leonardson, of Rogers Park.
Leonardson started the project in conjunction with the Chicago Park District last year, holding soundwalks at Dvorak Park, Washington Park, West Ridge Nature Preserve, North Park Village Nature Center, Garfield Park and other city spots.
Leonardson said he received a grant from the Night Out In the Parks Program to expand soundwalks to more city locales in 2017, and the schedule should be out soon. The grants provide stipends for teaching artists who plan and lead the soundwalks and costs for marketing them, Leonardson said.
Other parks proposed for soundwalks this year include Ping Tom Park and Big Marsh. Those would be led by Leonardson and other professors at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where Leonardson is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Sound.
Leonardson also giving a presentation on soundwalks Friday at the Shapiro Research Symposium.
Leonardson, who is Executive Director of the World Listening Project, founder and co-chair of the Midwest Society for Acoustic Ecology, said he's consistently amazed how much sound people tune out on a daily basis.
"It's pretty astonishing how much we filter out and how much we ignore," he said. "With soundwalks, we hope to reveal something you might not have noticed or might not have cared about before."
That could include the rustling of your clothes, the sound of pigeons flapping their wings or even the chime of a bell ringing during a Day of the Dead parade in Pilsen, which one soundwalk group heard in 2016.
Leonardson said the soundwalks make participants feel "more connected to our world."
"You have to slow down and consider what's going on around you," he said.